In the tumultuous aftermath of the UK’s vote to leave the EU, the European left is responding with a mix of reason, measured reassurances, and righteous defiance.
Left Unity, a populist UK political party, released a statement early Friday morning that criticized the right-wing organizers of the Leave campaign and vowed to “step up the fight against neo-liberalism here—opposing all cuts, defending the NHS [National Health Service], fighting for decent housing—and across Europe.”
“In Brexit Britain, we still face austerity, poverty and extreme inequality: the rotten policies of our government are still here,” Left Unity’s executive committee said. “We deeply regret that the working people of Britain have been deceived and manipulated into believing that Brexit will bring about relief from the grinding austerity that is destroying lives and communities.”
The party promised to fight against austerity politics because “the problems we face cannot be solved on a national basis. These are international problems faced by the working class internationally and this requires solidarity and cooperation across national boundaries.”
Similar statements emerged from other groups, including the UK-based Global Justice Now, and DiEM25, the political alliance co-founded by former Greek Finance Minister Yanis Varoufakis.
The Leave campaign won “because the EU establishment have made it impossible, through their anti-democratic reign (not to mention the asphyxiation of weaker countries like Greece), for the people of Britain to imagine a democratic EU,” DiEM25 said, adding that the vote should motivate leftists across Europe to unite for a populist movement.
The group’s statement continued:
We can proudly look the powers-that-be in Brussels, Berlin, Frankfurt, Paris etc. in the eye and tell them: “We tried to save the EU from you. But you have poisoned the EU so badly by silencing the voices of democrats that, though we tried, we could not convince to people of Britain to stay.”
We, at DiEM25, are in no mood for being downcast now that Leave won, against our better efforts. As of today, a new exciting challenge begins for our pan-European democratic movement.
[….] As of today, DiEM25 will seize upon the OUT vote to promote its radical agenda of confronting the EU establishment more powerfully than before.
The EU’s disintegration is now running at full speed. The DiEM25 campaign of building bridges across Europe, bringing democrats together across borders and political parties, is what Europe needs more than ever to avoid a slide into a xenophobic, deflationary, 1930s-like abyss. In this endeavour, British progressives will be at the heart of DiEM25’s campaigns.
Global Justice Now, an anti-poverty advocacy group, similarly called for renewed democratic mobilization, stating that the Brexit decision “opens up a world of uncertainty in which we must now navigate in a positive direction.”
The group’s director Nick Dearden slammed pro-Leave members of Parliament who campaigned by “pandering to nationalism, building a wave of anti-immigrant sentiment and fostering the spurious notion that outside the EU we can return to an age when Britain was the world’s foremost ‘great power’.”
He also criticized the lawmakers who campaigned by promoting the most “ambitious” version of the corporate-friendly Transatlantic Trade and Investment Partnership (TTIP) deal, which could privatize the NHS, eviscerate environmental regulations, and send unemployment rates skyrocketing.
The British government has done everything possible to push the most extreme version of TTIP, just as they’ve fought against pretty much every financial regulation in the EU, from bankers bonuses to a financial transaction tax. High-profile supporters of the Brexit campaign have repeatedly said that they believe the UK would be able to realise a more “ambitious” and faster free trade deal than TTIP if we stood alone.
“Under these conditions, it’s even more important that organizations and activists redouble their efforts to oppose toxic trade deals, corporate power grabs and above all defend the rights and dignity of migrants,” Dearden said.
Left Unity concluded its message by calling for a “massive political opposition to neo-liberalism, against austerity and poverty” throughout the continent.
“We watch the advance of the left in Europe—particularly where there is newfound cooperation and unity in Spain and Portugal—with our hearts filled with hope,” the group said. “But we also watch with grave concern the rise of the far right across Europe as well as in Britain. We need urgently to consolidate our forces against this growing tendency.”
In Spain, the leftist party Podemos responded to the vote by saying, “We need to end austerity to end this disaffection and this existential crisis of the European project. We need to democratize decision making, guarantee social rights and respect human rights.”
Via Common Dreams