On 8 January a raft of capitalist bigwigs published a letter in the Financial Times.
Richard Branson and others warned prime minister David Cameron against seeking “a wholesale renegotiation of our EU membership, which would almost certainly be rejected”. The fall-out “would be to put our membership of the EU at risk”.
On Friday 18 January Cameron will announce his response, in a speech in Amsterdam. Cameron wants to renegotiate to some extent (unclear); get exemption from EU worker-rights clauses, such as the Working Time Direction and the Agency Workers’ Directive; and then stage a referendum of some sort.
A big chunk of the Tory party and of smaller capitalists flatly want out of the EU. Short of a catastrophic crisis trashing international capitalist integration, Britain outside the EU would be something like Norway, locked into all the main EU economic regulations and with no say in their design. But nationalist sentiment, and the hope of making Britain an offshore base for capital free from the mild worker rights negotiated in the EU, give the anti-EUers fervour.
Jeremy Warner, in the right-wing Daily Telegraph, put it neatly: “It is in the nature of big companies that they like big markets, and they don’t particularly mind rules and regulations.”
Cameron is balancing between the different pressures. In October 2012 he said: “I don’t want an in/out referendum because I’m not happy with us leaving the European Union, but I’m not happy with the status quo either. I think what the vast majority of this country wants is a new settlement with Europe and then that settlement being put to fresh consent..”
In other words, he hopes to negotiate a new deal and then hold a yes/no referendum on that deal. By 17 December he had swayed towards the anti-EU gang: he didn’t want an “immediate in-out referendum”.
Socialists have no brief for the current EU structures — and less for a nationalist drive to seek an illusory national independence and scrap even modest worker rights regulations.
Ukip: keeping Britain bigoted?
The anti-EU United Kingdom Independence Party (Ukip) is at 12% in the polls, ahead of the Lib Dems, in surveys published on 14 and 15 January.
But Ukip’s sacking on 2 January of the chair of its youth wing, Olly Neville, should help protest voters see the right-wing nature of the party.
Neville was sacked for stating, in a radio interview, a personal opinion in favour of same-sex marriage rights. He says he was democratically elected by the party’s young members, but cites a turnout of only 117 voters, giving him a 62% majority.
He was sacked by an email from Ukip chair Stephen Crowther, sent on the authority of the executive.