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What next for Lexit? Left-wing Eurosceptics and their vision for Brexit

Is leaving the EU an end in itself, or the first step towards a different economic model?

It wasn't quite the image of chanting crowds, banners and social media-savvy youth associated with the anti-establishment left. But when Professor Richard Tuck, a Eurosceptic Harvard academic, came to speak before the Policy Exchange think tank last month, it was a radical vision on display.

He spoke of the left having its “greatest prize in a couple of generations, with the possibility of genuinely transforming British politics” through Brexit. Tuck was only the latest of a number of pro-Lexit – left-wing Brexit – intellectuals doing the rounds with their visions.

For left-wing Leavers, improbable victories have been coming thick and fast. With first the EU referendum, and then Labour’s impressive performance in the general election, led by Jeremy Corbyn, a man perceived as a closet Eurosceptic even during the Remain campaign, pro-Lexit views are being taken with newfound seriousness.

“Brexit means Brexit,” as Theresa May so famously said. It’s looking increasingly possible that Brexit could also mean Lexit. But what would Lexit look like?

During the campaign, Labour Leave – an organisation of Eurosceptic Labour MPs as well as donors like John Mills – released Lexit: the Movie, which framed the campaign as one of “the market versus society”. Labour Leave became active after Mills and others who had been involved with the wider campaigns Vote Leave, Leave.EU and Grassroots Out decided, in Mills’s words “Labour voters needed a Eurosceptic home.”

Yet others on the Left – including historically Eurosceptic parties such as the Communist Party of Britain, and the Socialist Workers Party – also claimed the “Lexit” mantle. They formed their own “Left Leave” campaign, which would be backed by some Labour-affiliated trade unions who opposed Labour Leave sharing platforms with Ukip.

The chair of Left Leave, Robert Griffiths, says his organisation received “plenty of invitations from trade unions and trade union councils” to speak and debate against pro-Remain campaigners. But it also organised a convoy to Calais to combat what he calls the “anti-foreigner kind of nonsense.”

Underlying these divisions is a split between those who see the sovereignty of the UK’s “national democracy” as an end in itself, and those who view it as a means to an end of carrying out left-wing policies.

Many Labour Leave campaigners fit into the first bracket. In the Labour MP Graham Stringer’s words: “I'm pro-democracy based on sovereign states, not on some super authority over and above democratic governments making laws in an unaccountable way.”

When asked for his view of an ideal Brexit, Mills said it was “pretty well in line with the speech that was made by the Prime Minister at Lancaster House”, in which May confirmed the UK would leave the single market, control immigration but seek new free trade deals. “Lexit” may not be a useful term to describe a Conservative leader’s line of opinion – but Mills indeed argues that Brexit is distinct from left-right politics. “I think to a large extent it is a distinct issue,” he says. “I don’t think there’s much of a redistributive content for example to do with Brexit.” Instead it is about “what extent you think you ought to be part of the European Union rather than an independent country”.

Yet for others, Brexit is a means to a very ideological and redistributive end. Labour Leave backer Kelvin Hopkins says Brexit is a “necessary condition for a left government to be able to do what I think a left government should do”, which is to restore something like the postwar Keynesian system, which he calls “a world that worked”.

Immigration is another dividing line. Frank Field, a Labour MP who backed Leave in part to increase control of immigration, compares calls to guarantee the rights of EU nationals in the UK to poor wage negotiations in an industrial dispute. Voters will see this, he argues, as once again putting “Britain second to other needs”.

In contrast Ian Hodson, president of the the Leave-supporting Bakers, Food and Allied Workers Union, declares “one of the things about the Bakers' Union is that we actually don't believe there should be any borders anywhere”.

What does unify most of the Lexiteers is concern that Labour could adopt a position on Brexit that pleases nobody. Most, however, feel that their own influence over policy is slim.

Mills, the donor, says that “since the referendum, Labour Leave has had kind of a monitoring role” in order to “make sure that the decision taken by the outcome of the referendum is reflected in what Labour does in parliament”. Yet the MP Stringer admits that Labour Leave as a group has had “one meeting, a very informal meeting” since the referendum, in order to discuss their stance on the original Great Repeal Bill.

Few Leave supporters are in policymaking roles – one exception is John Hilary, Labour’s head of trade policy. When asked about his own influence over Brexit policy, Field replies: “None at all, sadly. I haven’t got any influence at all.”

For some, the Labour gains in the recent election are bittersweet, because it makes the chance of the government playing hardball in the negotiations less likely.

Yet while Remainers, who may be seeking damage limitation, comprise a significant part of the parliamentary Labour Party, many of the Lexiteers are convinced that the leadership is on side.

If Corbyn does push for a “Lexit”, it will likely be as a means to a left-wing redistributive agenda, and the general election has undoubtedly strengthened his hand.

As Hopkins, an old ally of Corbyn, puts it, in many recent elections “the similarities between parties are so great that people just stop voting”. In June, “this time people thought, well, whatever you say about Jeremy, he’s not like the Tories”. Now the Lexiteers must hope this extends to Brexit.

Thomas Zagoria interned at the New Statesman as a Danson Scholar and campaigns against homelessness in Oxford.

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Michael Carrick is the “Geordie Pirlo” that England misunderstood

The Manchester United legend’s retirement announcement should leave Three Lions fans wondering what if?

That it came in the months leading up to a World Cup arguably added an exclamation point to the announcement of Michael Carrick’s impending retirement. The Manchester United midfielder, who is expected to take up a coaching role with the club afterwards, will hang up his boots at the end of the season. And United boss Jose Mourinho’s keenness to keep Carrick at Old Trafford in some capacity only serves to emphasise how highly he rates the 36-year-old.

But Carrick’s curtain call in May will be caveated by one striking anomaly on an otherwise imperious CV: his international career. Although at club level Carrick has excelled – winning every top tier honour a player based in England possibly can – he looks set to retire with just 34 caps for his country, and just one of those was earned at a major tournament.

This, in part, is down to the quality of competition he has faced. Indeed, much of the conversation around England’s midfield in the early to mid-noughties centred on finding a system that could accommodate both box-to-box dynamos Steven Gerrard and Frank Lampard.

As time went on, however, focus shifted towards trequartistas, advanced playmakers and those with more mobile, harrying playing styles. And the likes of Jack Wilshere, Ross Barkley, Jordan Henderson and Dele Alli were brought into the frame more frequently than Carrick, whose deep-lying capabilities were not utilised to their full potential. That nearly 65 per cent of Carrick’s England caps have come in friendlies shows how undervalued he was. 

In fairness, Carrick does not embody similar characteristics to many of his England midfield contemporaries, including a laudable lack of ego. He is not blessed with lung-busting pace, nor is he enough of a ball-winner to shield a back four solo. Yet his passing and distribution satisfy world-class criteria, with a range only matched, as far as England internationals go, by his former United team-mate Paul Scholes, who was also misused when playing for his country.

Rather, the player Carrick resembles most isn’t English at all; it’s Andrea Pirlo, minus the free-kicks. When comparisons between the mild-mannered Geordie and Italian football’s coolest customer first emerged, they were dismissed in some quarters as hyperbole. Yet watching Carrick confirm his retirement plans this week, perfectly bearded and reflecting on a trophy-laden 12-year spell at one of world football’s grandest institutions, the parallels have become harder to deny.

Michael Carrick at a press event ahead of Manchester United's Champions League game this week. Photo: Getty.

Where other players would have been shown the door much sooner, both Pirlo and Carrick’s efficient style of play – built on patience, possession and precision – gifted them twilights as impressive as many others’ peaks. That at 36, Carrick is still playing for a team in the top two of the top division in English football, rather than in lower-league or moneyed foreign obscurity, speaks volumes. At the same age, Pirlo started for Juventus in the Champions League final of 2015.

It is ill health, not a decline in ability, which is finally bringing Carrick’s career to a close. After saying he “felt strange” during the second-half of United’s 4-1 win over Burton Albion earlier this season, he had a cardiac ablation procedure to treat an irregular heart rhythm. He has since been limited to just three more appearances this term, of which United won two. 

And just how key to United’s success Carrick has been since his £18m signing from Tottenham in 2006 cannot be overstated. He was United’s sole signing that summer, yielding only modest excitement, and there were some Red Devils fans displeased with then manager Sir Alex Ferguson’s decision to assign Carrick the number 16 jersey previously worn by departed captain Roy Keane. Less than a year later, though, United won their first league title in four years. The following season, United won the league and Champions League double, with Carrick playing 49 times across all competitions.

Failing to regularly deploy Carrick in his favoured role – one that is nominally defensive in its position at the base of midfield, but also creative in providing through-balls to the players ahead – must be considered one of the most criminal oversights of successive England managers’ tenures. Unfortunately, Carrick’s heart condition means that current boss Gareth Southgate is unlikely to be able to make amends this summer.

By pressing space, rather than players, Carrick compensates for his lack of speed by marking passing channels and intercepting. He is forever watching the game around him and his unwillingness to commit passes prematurely and lose possession is as valuable an asset as when he does spot an opening.

Ultimately, while Carrick can have few regrets about his illustrious career, England fans and management alike can have plenty. Via West Ham, Spurs and United, the Wallsend-born émigré has earned his billing as one of the most gifted midfielders of his generation, but he’d never let on.

Rohan Banerjee is a Special Projects Writer at the New Statesman. He co-hosts the No Country For Brown Men podcast.