What does Brexit mean for global justice campaigning?


08 November 2016

We are living through the biggest political event in Britain in 70 years. The need for change has never been more necessary in order to combat the threats we face or to seize the opportunities this uncertain situation presents. But Brexit also means we must rethink our campaigns to make us more relevant to a country facing a deeply uncertain period.

What to make of Brexit

Global Justice Now argued for a critical ‘remain’ vote in the referendum, believing that an exit would strengthen free market and xenophobic values in our society. The wave of racist attacks in the wake of the vote, and the inclusion of several hardline free marketeers in the new cabinet, suggest we were right to be worried.

But we also know that some people voted to Brexit for very different reasons – to escape the corporate-dominated EU institutions which dreamt up TTIP, destroyed Greece’s economy and is abrogating its human rights duties towards refugees. For many more, Brexit was a cry against the establishment and their own marginalisation from the political process. These people could be seriously distressed by what Brexit looks like in practice.

Our first job at this difficult time is to defend our values against those unleashed by the referendum. We believe in a world based on more equality and solidarity, and we stand firmly against racism and discrimination.

We believe defending migrants is a clear part of building global justice. After all, migration is often driven by war, poverty, inequality and climate change, which are a consequence of western policies. The relative freedom of movement enjoyed by those of us in Europe cannot be squared with building higher walls to keep out those from poorer parts of the world.

We need to explain why migration happens, defend the rights of those who have migrated and support policies which treat all people with dignity and humanity. This is not an easy subject to campaign on right now – but we’re here to take on those issues that others feel are too difficult. We’ll put time into working out the best way to build public support for freer movement of people.  

TTIP and the market

The mobilisation against TTIP has shown that ordinary people can have power. The deal is on its last legs, having been subject to continual opposition from across Europe.

However, TTIP’s little brother CETA (a deal between Canada and the EU) is just as dangerous and could easily become law before Brexit takes place. Just like TTIP, CETA would allow foreign corporations to sue the British government in special ‘courts’, and is all about a regulatory race to the bottom.

We’ve already had some success with CETA – the EU has had to admit that the agreement is ‘mixed’, which means it has to go to national parliaments like Westminster. But the British government is desperately trying to ensure CETA is passed into law before this parliamentary vote. That means it could be applied as early as next spring.

In coming months, we will need to work hard to thwart CETA in the European parliament and embarrass our government into ensuring a Westminster vote takes place before CETA becomes law.

But this is only the first step, because in the coming years our government will try to sign many trade deals. Free market think tanks are already trying to mobilise for trade deals which look like TTIP on steroids.

We need to work to combat the failed ideology these deals are based on, but also propose our own alternative vision for trade. We will try to build as big a coalition as possible for trade policies which genuinely put people and the planet first. 

Stop CETA

The real threat to our sovereignty

It’s interesting how little was said during the referendum campaign about the real threats to our sovereignty and our democracy – namely the overwhelming power of corporations. Corporate power is at the heart of global problems like inequality, climate change and even conflict and war.

We will launch a major campaign which aims to restrain corporate power. We will join with campaigners across the world in working for an enforceable UN treaty that holds corporations legally accountable for their adverse human rights impacts. This includes exposing and challenging specific corporations – like Monsanto, whose power is destroying small scale agriculture.

We will also map out and campaign for economic models that undermine corporate power – like food sovereignty, energy democracy and a genuinely beneficial aid programme that puts publicly run healthcare and education ahead of corporate interests. In particular, our whole food system will need to be revised in the aftermath of Brexit.

Some are openly advocating a model under which the world’s poorest grow and export all of our food – a hangover from a dangerous Victorian ideology. We believe in a food system based on small farming and environmental practices. We will need to work hard to make such a system a reality, but the food sovereignty convergence and people's tribunal against Monsanto this autumn are good starting points.

Moving forward together

Even with the best ideas in the world, we will achieve little as staff in an office in London. We need to build a movement based on values of community, solidarity, openness and diversity. At this moment, many people in our society feel anxious, uncertain and afraid. We need to tell them they are not alone and, if they come together with others, they are not powerless.

In particular, we should be strengthening those who are marginalised by our economy, younger people and people of colour. This will make us stronger. We are committed to becoming a more diverse organisation because our strength lies in our diversity.

We are launching a youth network, an education programme and we are committed to increasing our work with allies here and around the world.  

Together, we can overcome the divisions of the last six months. All of these issues we have been campaigning on for so long are now on the table for discussion. We have no choice but to seize the opportunity for change.

Global Justice Now's post-Brexit strategy

  • We will stop the CETA trade deal, and will work towards a trade system for Britain which puts people first
  • We will defend the rights and dignity of migrants, campaigning to change attitudes towards migration
  • We will launch a major new campaign to restrain the power of global corporations – the real threat to our democracy
  • We will develop alternative systems for food and energy production and a better model for aid
  • We’ll launch a youth network to involve more young people in taking back our world from the 1%.

This article originally appeared in the Autumn issue of our Ninety-Nine magazine, which goes out three times a year to our members. Browse the current issue online and find out how you can join us.

Illustrations by Jacob V Joyce.

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