The Left’s transition from Eurosceptic force to defender of the EU has taken place over decades. The Labour party was once home to powerful Eurosceptic voices, such as Tony Benn’s. Today it is campaigning for Britain to remain in the EU (albeit not without reservations). What concern has convinced it to change its position?
The “bonfire of rights” argument
The main left-wing argument for Britain remaining in the EU is that EU laws limit the powers of the government, thereby protecting our rights from a Conservative party which might otherwise remove them.
This argument is curious because it does not trust the British people to hold their leaders to account. Instead, it assumes that the Conservatives would abolish our rights without a thought for their electoral prospects, It also assumes that following a Conservative “bonfire of rights“, the public would continue to vote for the Conservatives as if nothing had happened.
This is of course quite implausible. Far more likely that the public would elect a Labour government to extinguish such a bonfire, and restore those rights.
A question of accountability
While the ‘bonfire of rights’ argument rests on a very distrustful view of the British public, it places a remarkable degree of trust in appointed EU officials.
Given that these officials are not emotionally invested in this country, what reason do we have for thinking that they will make the right decisions for Britain?
Given that they are unelected, how are we to hold them to account for making the wrong decisions?
The foundational right
The Leave Campaign argues that a vote to leave would reaffirm our basic right to hold our lawmakers to account. Laws currently decided by appointed officials in the EU would instead be a matter for elected MPs in Westminster – MPs who are accountable to the public through the ballot box.
The importance of the right to hold our lawmakers to account is significant. As Labour MP and Leave Campaigner Kate Hoey has argued:
“It [the right to hold our lawmakers to account] is the basis for all other rights and without it rights can easily be taken away. And I don’t believe you can trust people in power if they cannot be removed by elections.”
Surely that is an argument which someone on the Left can appreciate just as well as the next person.