Tories want EU of austerity & corporate capture – McDonnell

Britain's shadow Chancellor of the exchequer John McDonnell. © Luke MacGregor
Tories want a Europe characterized by “runaway corporate power,” inequality and austerity, while Labour wants to restore Europe’s social fabric, clamp down on tax dodging and create quality jobs, says Shadow Chancellor John McDonnell.

McDonnell’s scathing criticism of the Conservative Party came during BBC One’s Question Time on Thursday evening, which focused on Britain’s upcoming ‘In/Out’ EU referendum. 

Panelists included the shadow chancellor, Tory Justice Minister Dominic Raab, UKIP’s Louise Bours, Guardian columnist Zoe Williams and former England footballer Jermaine Jenas.

Reformist agenda

Addressing the live studio audience in Liverpool, McDonnell said a long-term vision for Europe is vital.

“We believe it’s in the best interests of Brits to remain in the EU,” he said.

“We’ve ceded sovereignty to multi-national corporations. The only way we can tackle them and bring them under some form of democratic control – including making sure they pay their taxes – is on a European scale.”

Unlike Europhiles who fail to critically question Europe and Europhobes who rigidly reject the EU, McDonnell said Labour’s position on the referendum is rational. He argued Europe must be used as a vehicle to protect the fundamental civil liberties Britons hold dear.

“In the short-term, because of the fragility of our economy, withdrawal would set us backwards. Withdrawal from a market that almost 50 percent of our trade is with would destabilize our economy when we’re at such a fragile position,” he said.

“We have to develop a reform agenda that’s about protecting wages, protecting trade union rights – a real vision for the future and a vision of hope.”

Project Fear

McDonnell stressed that a vote to remain part of the EU would carry multiple long-term benefits, offering Brits a vital platform from which to tackle climate change, engage in peace building and manage mass migration flows.

Adopting a cynical tone, he said the vote on Britain’s EU membership had been sparked by Tory tensions over the party’s leadership. On the subject of Brexit fear mongering, he said lobbyists on both sides of the debate need to calm down.

“I think most of us want a sensible, rational debate and discussion. I don’t think people should be frightened into voting either way,” he said.

Left-leaning journalist Zoe Williams said both sides of the debate are relying on economic arguments they are unable to justify. She said such rhetoric is “insulting” and “uninspiring.”

Also adopting a reformist stance, she said Brits must vote to remain part of an EU that is yet to be born.

Britain's future

UKIP’s Louise Boars said she hopes that the pro-Brexit campaign does not indulge in the sort of scaremongering that the pro-EU campaign has.

“There are no tangible facts being pushed out there by either side. What we have is politicians spouting lots of statistics to back up their arguments … instead of making a positive case for what a fabulous country this is,” she said.

“We’re the fifth largest economy in the world. If you think in terms of our soft power across the globe – football, sport, music, art, culture – we have a tremendous influence.”

Controversially, Boars went on to argue that NATO rather than the EU had kept Europe peaceful.

McDonnell’s comments on Britain’s future in Europe came as Nobel Prize-winning economist Joseph Stiglitz said Brits would be better off leaving the European Union (EU) if the Transatlantic Trade and Investment Partnership (TTIP) is implemented.

Speaking at an event hosted by McDonnell on Wednesday, the US economist said TTIP represents a wholesale “rewriting of the rules with no public discussion” and poses significant dangers to society.