The Divisive Vote Over Brexit

Andrew Watt has written a passionate critique of my support for Brexit (“Progressive economists should support Remain not Brexit – a response to Steve Keen”), and it highlights a key feature of this peculiar referendum: people who normally find themselves on the same side in most economic and political debates have been divided by this referendum.

Andrew comments that he broadly agrees with my economic analysis on most issues, but vehemently opposes me here. Likewise, good friends like the heterodox economist Geoffrey Hogdgson; Ann Pettifor, who led the successful Jubilee 2000 campaign to cancel the debt of the world’s poorest nations; and Yanis Varoufakis, who knows a thing or two about the EU, all strongly support Remain.

But many other economic colleagues, such as Richard Werner, support Brexit as I do. Richard states his position this way:

The economics is clear: there is no need to be a member of the EU to thrive economically, and exiting does not have to impact UK economic growth at all. The UK can remain in the European Economic Area, as Norway has done, or simply agree on a trade deal, as Switzerland did, and enjoy free trade – the main intention of European agreements in the eyes of the public.

The politics is also clear: the European superstate that has already been formed is not democratic. The so-called ‘European Parliament’, unique among parliaments, cannot propose any legislation at all – laws are all formulated and proposed by the unelected European Commission! As a Russian observer has commented, the European Parliament is a rubber-stamping sham, just like the Soviet parliament during the days of the Soviet Union, while the unelected government is the European Commission – the Politibureau replete with its Commissars. (Richard Werner, “EU Basics – Your Guide to the UK Referendum on EU Membership”)

How can one issue divide people who are in agreement on so many others? Partly it’s because of the politically ugly fellow travellers one finds oneself with: the UKIPs and the Britain Firsts that put forward racist, anti-immigration arguments for Brexit. Better vote Remain than find yourself with such bedfellows—and there’s the concern that winning the Brexit vote might strengthen their hands in domestic politics as well.

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