A fork in the road

Baroness Jenny Jones

The Green Party view of the European Union is that it is a flawed organisation, but that its benefits outweigh the flaws and it is better to stay in and reform it than ditch it altogether.

Personally, I fear it is unreformable. From the outset in the 70’s, when the UK agonised about joining, I worried that it was cumbersome, expensive, and undemocratic. And latterly I’ve been horrified too by the deep influence of big business – corporate lobbyists outnumber NGO lobbyists by 15-1. What chance is there of tough progressive action on poverty or the environment?

In the past the EU has brought in some good measures, for example the Directives on Clean Air, which I used to try to hit Boris Johnson over the head with while talking about London’s worsening air pollution. But the problem itself was caused in large part by the EU’s support and encouragement of diesel engines, after pressure from diesel car manufacturers keen to improve their sales. So thank you to the EU for the problem of poisonous air and then for a solution for cleaning it up, sadly too late for those thousands of people who had early deaths and for the children whose lungs will be permanently damaged.

If you read the four Freedoms of the Treaty of Rome, I find it curious that Labour is so pro EU. Those freedoms are: to move capital, products, services and labour freely within the union. To me, it reads like a bosses charter. It’s fundamentally exploitative, bad for small businesses and for traditional ways of working, especially for farming, as we are witnessing in Eastern Europe where agribusinesses are driving out small scale family farms that were using low impact, environmentally friendly practices.

The lack of democracy and unaccountability is staggering. The Council of Ministers operates almost entirely in secret and has the whip hand over the EU parliament on most issues. Tony Benn warned that Britain was signing up for exactly that. He said, “I can think of no body of men outside the Kremlin who have so much power without a shred of accountability for what they do.” Plus to join the Eurozone, countries had to give up a lot of economic power which means that the EU can strike down the democratic will of nation states. It did with Greece, imposing an even worse package of measures for privatisation and savage cuts than had been rejected by the Greeks in a referendum just the week before.

And then TTIP … The Transatlantic Trade and Investment Partnership is an example of the EU over reaching badly. The reaction of people in most countries is horror and there has been an EU wide sharing of information to resist it. This is rare because there is no European public to make enough of a fuss for the EU rethink its policies. While we have an EU, I’m pleased that we have Green Members of the European Parliament, who do their best to contain its worst excesses. But this policy work should be done by our national Government who will respond to public pressure. It was the same government that introduced the loathed Poll Tax that also repealed it, responding to the outcry.

It’s true that I’m embarrassed to be linked in any way to some of the people on the Brexit side. I disagree strongly with a lot of their analysis. I don’t want to leave because of fears of immigration. I welcome immigration. It makes the UK a vibrant more interesting place to live. The economy is healthier for it and public services like the NHS would fall over without the hard work of immigrants. Nor do I support the scaremongering over the economy. It’s extremely difficult to predict any outcome with any certainty – there are risks either way.

And I’m angry about the way the referendum campaign has been fought so far. Both sides have talked a great deal of nonsense and used spurious arguments to influence the undecided, of whom there are a lot. Brexit won’t mean we can’t holiday in Europe, nor have visitors and goods travelling both ways, nor an end to cooperation on issues like counter terrorism. It will mean an end to an expensive and unresponsive organisation that puts bankers above workers and power above the health of the people.

Change is challenging. Personally I’m not keen on it at all. But sometimes there’s a fork in the road that can lead to a better future and the referendum is just that.

Finally, Remainers sometimes talk of Brexiters hating the EU, but I don’t hate it, I just despair of it.


  1. Catherine Linstrum

    I’m a Green Party member and I’m desperately disappointed in Jenny Jones giving up on the EU. Inevitably such a huge organisation will sometimes cumbersome and unwieldy. And flawed. It has to keep a lot of people onside all the time, and this includes bankers and capitalists. I feel that the principle of unity between 28 countries is a principle worth fighting for. And I also feel that if the UK were left to its own devices, unchecked by its 27 neighbours, it wouldn’t create a progressive and egalitarian alternative to the rest of Europe – it would drift towards America with all the disastrous consequences that such a drift would entail. We should stick together – for better and for worse – and work with our neighbours to make the EU a better and stronger community.

    • Peter Oberauer

      It is a pity that the referendum question is “remain/leave” rather than “does the EU need reform” or in “what ways does the EU need reform most”.

      Either way, sounds like both sides agree that the EU needs reform.
      The only vote that will send a clear message and shake things up is voting to leave.

      The EU should be about countries coming together, to share their best ideas.
      And member countries choosing which of those ideas to take home with them.

      But instead it is a dictatorship. People in countries besides the UK are tired of being dictated to. Of having their democracy stolen. This is fuelling extremism and hate in EU countries, not creating peace and unity. Why fight for so-called unity in Europe at the expense of unity with the rest of the globe?

      Our neighbours won’t turn their backs on us. France may well vote to leave the EU too. We’d have more freedom to trade and exchange the best ideas with Asia, Africa and the Americas too.

    • James Pike

      To lump people into two camps: “giving up on the EU” and “keeping faith in the EU” seems like a simplification too far. I’m happy to be a member of a party where people like Jenny are free to state their own opinions even when they don’t agree with party line or with my own opinions. Of the many green party members and supporters I doubt you will find many that don’t feel that there are elements of the EU worth “giving up on” no matter how strongly they might feel that voting to remain in the EU is the right thing to do. To summarise Jenny’s point of view into one side of a rather editorialised sounding dichotomy doesn’t sit well with me.

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