Only by leaving the EU will Britain be free to become a “social democratic nirvana”. So claim prominent left-wing advocates of “Lexit”. They argue that EU laws stand in the way of us reforming our economy along more Corbynist, that is, very left-wing, lines.
But you only have to look at Europe to see this is nonsense. In France, university tuition is negligible; in Belgium, zero-hour contracts are banned; in Portugal, domestic energy consumers benefit from regulatory price caps; in Hamburg, people voted to return their power grid from private firms to municipal hands. Did the “neo-liberal jackboots of Brussels” try to block any of this? No. The Lexiters talk of a post-Brexit UK finally being able to stand up to the multinationals. “But who fined Google and Microsoft billions of dollars for anticompetitive behaviour? Who has ordered Apple to repay €13bn in avoided corporation tax?” The European Commission. The EU may be flawed, but the idea that it’s some kind of right-wing project represents “a combination of wilful ignorance and ideologically induced blindness”. (Ben Chu, The Independent)
There is no doubt that the EU is incredibly bureaucratic. It has made the crucial error of expanding too far, including countries with few West European leanings, and in the process it has really annoyed the Russians. It conducts a very unfair fisheries policy and an agricultural subsidy policy that not even the experts understand.
Having said that, as the excerpt above by Ben Chu points out, it has been a stalwart supporter of human rights and has, in comparison to the US, tamed the worst excesses of hyper-capitalism. It has avoided a European war for decades, and, owing to free trade policies, has been responsible for a huge rise in the living standards of most Europeans. Leaving it is a self-inflicted wound.