Lexit or Remain: What’s Best For Women?

Given it is so difficult to find many genuinely progressive debates about the EU Referendum in the mainstream media, it’s becoming increasingly hard for many people to feel equipped to make a decision on how they will vote on 23rd of June. Two women are going to put their cases forward for a progressive leave vote and, next week, for remain.

When it comes to leaving the EU, the debate is being so dominated by the right-wing that the legitimate arguments for a left-wing exit are being largely left out of the conversation. The remain campaign of course have the Labour Party arguing that we should remain in the EU and many progressive voices in the media, such as Owen Jones, have now firmly given their support to the remain camp. In a debate where there are right-wingers on both sides, how should lefty women be voting?


In the debate about the EU, it is common to hear lefties arguing that there is no vote to leave that is not racist or xenophobic and that, particularly when it comes to women, we will have our workers’ rights stripped from us and the battle for equal pay will become even tougher. People warn that the potential for a Boris Johnson government would mean a swing to the right and that this would have disastrous consequences for women, however, there are many reasons why these arguments don’t ring true.

To begin with, the argument that it is the EU that has given women workers’ rights is ludicrous – these rights were won from the bottom-up through women workers demanding them, not by bureaucrats in the EU. It is insulting to suggest that women who went on strike over issues such as equal pay, like the women at the Dagenham Ford factory in 1968, have simply been handed these rights. It was those striking working women in Dagenham who were the catalysts for the 1970 Equal Pay Act and not politicians. What’s more, as has been made obvious in France and Belgium in the past week, being an EU country does not protect workers’ rights.

The pessimism that surrounds the main left-wing arguments for remaining in the EU is lamentable – it is predicated on the notion that social reform at home is impossible outside of the EU. The people of Greece are testament to the fact that the EU can be a crushing, neoliberal force and not the progressive haven it is often described as. Additionally, a recent Guardian article
(http://www.theguardian.com/careers/2016/may/24/what-would-leaving-eu-mean–employment-rights) detailed how it is highly unlikely that there would actually be any major shift in employment rights, regardless of the supposed swing to the right that Johnson would bring to the table. Women already do not have equal pay in the UK despite the EU Gender Equality Recast Directive. It would be pessimistic to argue that any detrimental changes would come about through leaving, given that the EU has already failed to tackle the issue as has the Tory government – why would this change?

The EU has adopted a policy of austerity that is entirely ideological. As has been made obvious in Greece, even when an anti-austerity party is democratically elected to government, they will be trampled on by the EU. The politics of austerity hits women hardest, as has been made evident in the UK, where cuts being made in the public sector disproportionately affect women and where domestic violence services are being dangerously decimated, with 2 in 3 women being turned away from refuges. Although there are people on the Left, such as Paul Mason recently (http://www.theguardian.com/commentisfree/2016/may/16/brexit-eu-referendum-boris-johnson-greece-tory), arguing that Boris Johnson’s post-exit leadership is the overriding reason to vote remain, this is based on the notion that David Cameron and Boris Johnson are somehow totally ideologically opposed – this is simply untrue. There is no way that anyone could argue that Cameron has been some kind of feminist beacon. He has chosen the politics of austerity and continued to make decisions that hurt women the most. Women are not protected from the crippling effects of the politics of austerity at the moment in the UK, and neither are women protected from it in EU countries.

Outside of the EU, the kinds of progressive policies that Jeremy Corbyn will be campaigning for will be able to be implemented if he were to be elected. There are many EU directives that enforce privatisation of our public services – Royal Mail was privatised by the Conservatives, but the EU began the process when they liberalised the postal market. It is the kinds of progressive policies that Corbyn has campaigned for his whole life that will genuinely improve the situation for women, and not the pro-austerity stance of the EU. Lexit could be the start of building a grass-roots movement towards the kinds of progressive government we need to bring about social change for women – this is not going to be possible within an un-progressive EU that would would limit the potential policy changes of a Corbyn government.

Lexit would not vindicate the right any further, we are already in the 6th year of Tory rule and it is an unconvincing argument that things would genuinely get drastically worse just because of a change of leadership. The Tories are already decimating the NHS, refusing to take in refugees and limiting EU migrants access to benefits. These are issues that directly affect women – the NHS provides vital care, particularly as women’s services for domestic and sexual violence are cut and it is obvious that the EU does not protect us from these cuts, nor does it force us to be a socially progressive country, as is highlighted by the despicable way the Tories have handled the refugee crisis. Women and children in European refugee camps, especially those without documentation, are vulnerable to trafficking and sexual violence. The EU response to the refugee crisis has been revolting and it is important to point out that this is an issue that does directly affect women, as is the Islamophobia and racism at the centre of the EU and Tory response. It would be false to suggest that the EU has been a progressive, anti-racist force.

Progressive women should not vote to remain within the EU, which crushes anti-austerity politics, even where reforms have been attempted democratically. The only legitimate way to bring about the kind of liberation that women need to achieve equality in the long term is through voting to leave and building towards a more progressive, anti-austerity UK that has the interests of ordinary women at its heart and not those of big business and bankers.

8 thoughts on “Lexit or Remain: What’s Best For Women?

  1. Some points:
    – The UK is exempt from the convergence criteria sanctions mechanism, so blaming austerity on the EU is a stretch.
    – If the UK is to maintain single market access, an aggressive agenda of re-monopolizing services will hardly work out
    – The EU response to the refugee crisis has been much more palatable from a progressive standpoint than that of the UK and other member states.
    – The treatment of women and children in “EU” refugee camps is something a Corbyn government could influence if and only if the UK remains
    – EU rules allow _limiting_ benefits to EU immigrants, while a leave vote would allow to exclude them (including, obvs, a great deal of women) completely from legal immigration

    In a nutshell: The EU stinks if you compare it to some hypothetical utopia. That might not be a fair comparison though.


    1. To respond to your points:
      – What I’m trying to do here is highlight that ideologically, it would be difficult for me to vote for an EU that is-pro austerity. I’m not entirely sure how you are arguing that austerity isn’t a political choice and therefore that the EU is not to blame for imposing austerity on Greece…
      -I do not believe the EU response to the refugee crisis has been progressive or palatable, this is obviously, again, an ideological difference between us. The UK’s response has also been disgusting. Being in the EU now has not forced us to take in the refugees we should. The EU agreed to start sending refugees back to Turkey, safe passages have been blocked by the EU. I genuinely find it laughable you are claiming this is progressive!
      -It is ludicrous to suggest that outside of the EU we would not be able to help women and children in refugee camps: with a more progressive government in the future these are the kinds of policies we would be able to implement.
      -I don’t buy the argument that I should vote for something that is just a bit less racist than the other option. As I’ve tried to highlight, I do not think that leaving will mean a sudden swing to the right which is why I am prepared to take a slight leap in the dark in the hope that we can build towards the progressive country I want to live in.


  2. This article misrepresents the ideals and the laws of the EU as toxically as Boris Johnson does and does little more than vaguely conflate criticisms of the Conservatives with criticisms of the EU.

    Firstly the Treaty of Rome in 1957 makes explicit that one of the EU’s founding principles is equal pay for women. The determination of groups like the Dagenham’s workers was phenomenal but it was within the context of a politically progressive EU that steps forward like the Equal Pay Act of 1970 could happen. A commitment to gender equality that the EU has consistently striven to extend. The stagnation in progress towards these goals in the past decade is an indictment of the individual member states failing to achieve these goals rather than their absence in the EU charter.

    Similarly the idea that Corbyn’s agenda would be blocked by the EU is wrong. The Royal Mail liberalisation was done three years before the EU enforced it and three years after it was done the Royal Mail maintained over a 90% control of the market. As the article says, the privatisation was a Conservative decision, not an EU one. Going beyond this neither of the two areas for nationalisation Corbyn suggests, the railways and the energy companies, are prohibited by the EU. The competition laws of the EU specifically state that “The Treaties shall in no way prejudice the rules in Member States (MS) governing the system of property ownership.” (Art. 345 of TFEU). Nationalisation is allowed, the only provisions in the case of the nationalisation of energy companies would be that whilst a nationalisation of the grid is allowed, third parties should still be able to have access to it. Seeing as there are over 100 energy generators and suppliers in the UK at the moment and Corbyn only wants to nationalise the big six this is an irrelevant caveat to his agenda. In France over 90% of the market is state owned or backed.

    This article goes on to detail a long list of well travelled criticisms of the Conservatives. These are a justified attack on the most damaging government the UK has seen in 40 years but they are separate to the debate about the EU. Leaving the EU makes us more vulnerable to big business, more vulnerable to dangerous isolationism, less able to influence green policy and ultimately less able to champion progressive values amongst our allies.

    It is by being in this union, committed to independent and autonomous nation-states that are joined by a collective set of values, that we can both develop and achieve these values. We would be a country much the poorer, not just economically but politically and ideologically to abandon a union whose values are our values, whose people are our people and whose future is our future.


    1. I think it’s interesting that you’ve told me I am misrepresenting the ideals and laws of the EU – I think this must be a very ideological disagreement between us.

      I do not see the neoliberal, pro-austerity, anti-refugee EU that works in the interests of big business and bankers as being progressive. I totally accept that the EU was not formed to be this originally but this is what is has become. I cannot bring myself to vote in as I do not see the EU as being reformable. This is something I have come to realise thinking this over over many months.

      The Paul Mason article outlines the reasons I disagree with the EU far better than I can, where me and him differ however, is that I DO think now is the time to come out.

      I do not agree with you that it is by being in this union that we have a collective set of values, what has happened over the last year has undermined that for me. As I’ve said this is clearly an ideological disagreement, you praise the EU in a way that I can’t bring myself to do – I do not see myself as having ‘shared values’ with as i’ve said an anti-refugee, pro-austerity, pro-banker, pro big business organisation in the same way that I do not see myself as having the same values as the current government, nor any government we have had in the UK for many decades…

      As I’ve said this is a totally ideological decision for me at this point and I am prepared to take a leap in the dark to build towards the kind of country I want to live in.


    2. Also I find your comment re striking workers genuinely ludicrous, it is NEVER the case that workers’ rights are won down to the actions of people at the top and it is offensive to suggest as such. Women workers had taken strike action as early as 1888 (Women’s matchworker strike) do not insult these women by claiming the (non-existent) EU won them their battle…


  3. The ideological gulf between us is not so much in the politics we’d like to see, it’s in whether we’ll pick the less horrible option or try for the best (such a very old battle and unlikely to be decided here and now). A useful test question to ask yourself, maybe: Am I willing to take a leap in the dark because I don’t imagine the consequences would be very bad for ME and does that hold true for all the groups whose fate I hold dear? If the answer is that you’ve factored in the possible consequences for everyone and Brexit still comes out on top, by all means vote for it. I truly hope you’re right.


  4. If the hypothetical (and, yes defeatist, pessimistic and intolerable but quite possibly realistic) situation of a Conservative victory in 2020 was guaranteed. Would you change your mind?
    My immediate response to your article was that I agree with almost all of your sentiment and I would completely agree with your voting intention if I could ever see that the UK population would become the progressive force that we would perhaps all hope. It seems that you have more faith in the population of this country than the bureaucrats in Europe, something, I’m ashamed to say, I am not entirely sure I share.


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