Yanis Varoufakis

I’ve been reading two very different arguments for Britain to stay in the EU. One is the pretty booklet spread round the country by the Government, Why the Government believes that voting to remain in the European Union is the best decision for the UK.

Nudge nudge wink wink. Some of the Government believe this. Others – a very substantial proportion – believe otherwise. But those others won’t have the option of sending a booklet to every house in the country, funded by the taxpaying recipients.

Nearly all the arguments are economic. There’s just one page on a different topic. Well, there aren’t many pages and some of them are just pictures; but the different topic is ‘Controlling immigration and securing our borders’.

I couldn’t find anything I agree with. The economic arguments are completely spurious. Britain would be worse off if we exited, apparently. Nobody knows this, but even if it was certainly true it would be irrelevant. Britain is one of the richest countries in the world. We could easily feed the hungry, house the homeless and provide enough hospitals and doctors so that there were no health care waiting lists. In or out of the EU, we’ve got more than enough wealth to meet all our needs. Instead we’ve spent 40 years taking from the poor and giving to the rich – who don’t need it. It’s a British Government choice, regardless of EU membership.

As for immigration, we’re told that ‘the Government has negotiated a deal that will make our benefits system less of a draw for EU citizens.’ At a time when there are millions of refugees seeking a home anywhere they can get one! Future generations will look on us with horror at our callousness.

Anyway, if the case for staying in is so strong, why are we having this referendum at all? Whas it just so that Cameron could win the 2015 General Election? If so, we’re just going through the motions now. No wonder there isn’t anything more convincing to say.

The other bit of reading was Yanis Varoufakis’ And the Weak Suffer what they Must? The title comes from the ancient Greek historian Thucydides, a question asked by the residents of Melos after the Athenian empire had crushed their revolt. The parallel between the Eurozone and Greece today is obvious. Varoufakis cites various European politicians and financiers determined to impose the harshest regime on Greece in order to discourage the other Eurozone losers – Spain, Portugal, Italy – from trying to negotiate a better deal. His description of the EU is as far removed as it could be from the British Government’s cotton wool booklet.

Despite all this, Varoufakis wants Britain to stay in the EU. Most of his reasons are familiar to British debate. As long as we are in the EU we have to abide by various regulations. Some are to protect the environment, some to protect employees. The regulations are nowhere near enough, but some of the leading Brexit campaigners want out because they want to abandon these safeguards.

But Varoufakis makes an even more important point. He describes Greece during its military dictatorships. Italy, Spain and Portugal also had dictatorships. He reflects on the pressures between states that lead to dictatorships and wars. We do not know that, had it not been for the EU, Europe would have gone to war again by now; but we do know that xenophobia is once again growing. Other European governments are, like Britain, increasingly determined to keep people out. It looks as though we are all increasingly uncaring about other people. If Britain leaves, he adds, the EU will be severely weakened. It will not be the same again. Other countries may follow suit. Using economic arguments he draws parallels between today’s austerity regimes and the depression of the 1930s. 80 years ago, it led to war. It could happen again.

So do we identify with foreigners and seek to cooperate with them, or do we see them as alien and turn our backs on them? Are we bound to be at daggers drawn, or is there a unity to humanity?

Historically, the idea of humanity as a unity came from Christianity. Christianity inherited from Judaism the idea of a single god of the whole universe, and abolished the idea of a chosen race. The good news is for everyone. The classic Christian text will be recited in churches up and down the country on 15th May. Anybody who has stood up in church to read it will remember struggling with the long list of place names: ‘Parthians, Medes and Elamites,’ and all the rest.

The point would have been clear at the time. Whoever you are, wherever you come from, you are a child of God. God loves you, and has provided enough resources for your needs to be met, along with everybody else’s. If they are not met, the fault lies with human authorities, not with the meanness of nature.

So in this ‘in or out?’ referendum there are actually three positions. One is to leave. One is to carry on as we are, with a self-congratulatory pat on the back, despite the worsening trends. The third is to stay in the EU and change it. Greece, to its credit, tried but was crushed by the neoliberal system. Other countries are also losing out the way Greece is. It can be changed. Britain could help.

If we are to be more of a help than a hindrance, we’ll have to reaffirm the solidarity with humanity that our parents and grandparents believed in when they set up international agencies like United Nations and the EU. Everybody needs somewhere to live. Everybody needs something to eat. It can be done.