Sunday 11 April 2021
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BREXIT – The Good and the Bad


As the hour of judgment draws nearer, the campaigns on both sides of the EU referendum have become increasingly dominated by one issue: immigration. On the Leave side, the months leading up to this referendum have seen a ratcheting up of xenophobic and racist rhetoric, with the sole aim of scapegoating migrants and the EU’s free movement of labour for all the ills in society. In response, many honest and well-meaning workers and youth have called for a Remain vote in order to keep out the most extreme right-wing elements in the Tories and UKIP. A vote for Brexit, we are told, will be a boost to Boris, Farage, and the far-right, which will only serve to strengthen xenophobic attitudes and the oppression of migrants. The only solution, therefore, the argument goes, is to back the Remain camp and support the “lesser evil” of Cameron and co. in order to defeat the reactionary Brexiters. There is no doubt that the Leave leaders in the EU referendum are playing on the worst fears and most backward prejudices within society. And it is also clearly true that workers have nothing to gain from a Brexit led by the likes of Boris,

Gove, and Farage. But, we must also maintain a clear head amid all this chaos and soberly ask: will a vote to Remain really defeat racism and the far right, and help migrants and the wider working class? According to the website “in defence of Marxism”, a large part of the left’s Remain argument hinges on the idea of supporting the “lesser evil” of the so-called “progressive Tories” of Cameron and Osborne, etcetera, against the most reactionary Tories of Boris Johnson, Michael Gove, and Iain Duncan Smith. Cameron and Osborne may be carrying out cuts and attacking workers already, but things will apparently be even worse under a Boris or Gove-led Tory government, we are told. In short: better the Devil you know. A day before the referendum, opinion polls still showed the vote is too close to call. Many British owners of small businesses, as well as some hedge fund and private-equity managers, say they would be better off outside the EU’s regulatory regime. But most big firms that have spoken up on the issue, inside and outside the UK, are pushing for a vote to remain in the EU. “This ‘Brexit’ vote is a really important wake-up call,” said Maurice Lévy, chief executive of Paris-based advertising giant Publicis Groupe SA. He is hoping Britain stays in, but said that the EU has botched issues ranging from the economy to what to do with refugees. “We must recognize that Europe is not working well.”

As for Africa, James Duddridge, the British Minister for Africa, says Africa will benefit from a stronger relationship with the UK if Britain votes to leave the European Union in the Brexit referendum. The UK will no longer be forced to view Africa through the “prism” of the EU but will “deepen” its direct relations with African countries and other countries, which play a significant role on the continent, he said. “We’ll be able to focus more on our bilateral relationships with Africa and with our traditional partners,” says Duddridge, an MP for the ruling Conservative Party, which is split over whether to leave the EU or stay. Duddridge envisages more focus on coordination with France and the US because “that’s where the diplomatic clout lies in Africa, not with some distant European External Action Service”. “Sometimes we wrap up the UK-French relationship on Africa in a guise, a blanket, of the European Union to give it a bit more credibility beyond the two nations,” Duddridge told RFI in a telephone interview. “But in reality the principle European relationship in Africa is one between the French and the United Kingdom.” With Brexit, the UK can take advantage of “greater opportunities in the Commonwealth”, says Duddridge, talking about the club of mainly former British colonial possessions. “There will be a reassertion of the Commonwealth’s relationship”, while the UK would also continue to support the continental African Union bloc “at all levels” because of the “very positive” role it plays.

Promote inter-African trade
On trade with Africa, Duddridge is keen to encourage more intra-African trade and is a believer in more liberalised international trade with the continent. “Africa is much better looking at a freer form of trading that will allow them to add value to commodities before they leave their shores,” he says. Although Duddridge says he has been a supporter of the EU’s Economic Partnership Agreements, which negotiate trade and development deals with different African regions, he says Africa “could be much bolder looking further afield”. He is also critical of the European agricultural policy’s impact on Africa, claiming that “the Common Agricultural Policy [the EU subsidies system that critics say hurts farmers in developing countries] has distorted trade to the disbenefit of African countries over decades.” UK development aid channelled through the European Development Fund is allocated “a lot less efficiently” than British aid assigned directly to African countries via “very good organisations” like the Department for International Development, says Duddridge, who has worked in both Botswana and Côte d’Ivoire and was recently in Namibia on an official visit, which included talks over Brexit with President Hage Geingob, Prime Minister Saara Kuugongelwa-Amadhila and Finance Minister Calle Schlettwein.  He lists international organisations such as the UN, World Bank and International Monetary Fund as possible alternatives for the provision of multilateral aid that is currently dispersed through the EU. Whether on security, trade or development aid, Duddridge is confident that British ties to Africa would be better off with an exit that will enable the UK to do things on its “own terms” rather than weakening its position to the “lowest common denominator”.

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