Claire Fox looks a lot younger than 60 years old. Full of energy and contagious passion, with upfront clear political views and smart as a whip, this activist ― member of the now-defunct Revolutionary Communist Party, head of the Institute of Ideas and champion of workers’ rights and freedom of speech ― surprised everybody with her decision to be a candidate with the Brexit Party, standing next to Nigel Farage.
Now an MEP, she is the main left pro-Brexit voice. We met at the Institute’s offices, at a working-class neighbourhood of London. The interview, scheduled for the morning was requested to be moved a few hours later, due to “an unavoidable change of circumstance”. As I found out after the interview, Claire Fox had lost her mother that same morning. She was still there to be interviewed that evening because she wanted to be heard. Especially by the Greek Left.
– What is a girl like you doing with a guy like him?
“I don’t think I am with him. I am trying to work out how best to represent those people who voted to leave the European Union (EU). A very simple decision, a very straightforward decision for millions of people, who just thought “we were asked, we decided to leave”, and they didn’t think of this as a right or left wing decision, but they did take it seriously. And then, after three and a half years they realised it wasn’t going to happen. There wasn’t any other way to express their frustration positively than the sitting of this new party. The person who set up that new party happened to be him, not me. So, we can criticise Nigel Farage as much as you want, but ultimately he created a vehicle, not even a party, but a vehicle through which the already existing voices could not become Despondent. And I decided I ought to be part of that.
– Is it true you tried for a Left Brexit front before joining the Brexit Party?
“It dawned on me, that if the European election was to happen… I mean, I couldn’t even believe that we will still be at the EU and have that day in our minds! I went and talked to various people on the left and said “What should we do? Should that be a left slate?”, and everybody, typical, we are all familiar with the left, sort of said “maybe”, and “possibly” and “yeah, we could”, or “maybe not”, and I realised that no-one was going to do anything. I felt frustrated that actually there would be only Nigel Farage associated with this kind of positive side, and I felt then that that wasn’t a reflection of who would have voted to leave the EU, which was much broader than the people who would have supported traditionally Nigel Farage. I am not here to critisize him, he didn’t do anything wrong. I am criticising the left, I am criticising my side, because we didn’t do anything. We complained and we moaned and we said things… Very often the left in this country actually didn’t even do that, they kind were either quiet, or they voted Remain or some of them were even completely, completely opposed of Brexit, even though -some of them- before the referendum, they were saying that the EU was also the problem. But then they didn’t even had the courage… So, you have to give credit where it is due. But, yes, at least I did explore the possibility that there might be an alternative, a left one, but there obviously wasn’t.”.
– Do you see analogies between the Greek and British referenda?
“Greece was in a very different situation that the UK because of the Eurozone, because of the imposed austerity by the EU bureaucrats and the absolute contempt with which Greek People were treated, by the EU. In a way, the British working class never experienced that. I also think that what happened to Greek people though, in relation with the eurozone crisis, taught many people in this country, in the UK, a lesson. We looked and said “No, you cannot treat them like that, you can’t”… This was the kind of worst neo-liberal, nasty, vicious treatment, that you would expect from a pretty hard nosed right wing pro-bosses kind of establishment. And when you are on the left…
That was actually, ironically, when a lot of people on the left started saying, in this country (UK), “We have to be in solidarity with the Greek people”. And that was when even Owen Jones, who is a reasonably well known left wing commentator in this country, a young left wing Guardian writer, he coined the phrase “Lexit”, Left Wing Exiting of the EU, because of the treatments of the Greek people. It is just that, ironically, when the push came to the shove, when we actually had a referendum, those left wing voices kind of disappeared, abandoned the field. But, there was a sense that both referenda were similar in the sense that both people were given an option, were given a choice, had to think about what was facing them and voted a particular way. And as you know, in Greece, people voted a particular way and were said “thank you for voting that way, now we are going to ignore you”. Not to disparage what happened to Greece, but here it is a much bigger geopolitical decision, because Britain leaving the EU is a big deal for the EU, is a big deal for the UK, actually, and nobody expected it at all. Therefore it created a massive explosion of political questioning and fragmentation within the whole of European politics. In that sense it is more significant. I don’t think that people thought of that when they were voting, but it’s really caused a serious problem. And, they would like us to do what they said to the greek voters, which was “Do go away and think again”.
Greece is a symbol of why we have to look critically at the EU. Sovereignty self determination and having some sense of control of your own destiny was shockingly thrown out for the Greek People. Basically, what they said to people in Greece was: You will never control your own destiny. When they say you cannot control your own economy… that is like being.. Not exactly like slaves, but it is like saying we own you, we will decide on your behalf. When that happened was a kick in the guts for anyone who thought that the EU might somehow allow us some amount of democratic self determination. It was never going to happen. If they are out to do you, they gonna make you suffer. And so for me that was a very visceral reason why when the EU was come up to question on a referendum on the UK, myself and many people on the Left said that, on behalf of the people of Greece as well as ourselves, we gonna leave the EU.”.
– Truth be said, in the first years of the Greek crisis, a lot of Greek lefties thought they’ve found a voice in Nigel Farage.
“That was historically challenging about Nigel Farage. He is not somebody I would imagine I’d have as a natural political ally, but I try and take people for what they say. I know that he’s been associated with some quite intolerable aspects, playing the race card, and I haven’t liked that over the years. I didn’t like UKIP for that reason. But also he’s had a voice that said other things than that, things that nobody else had the courage to say. And, in the end, that is the way you have to view it. If the Left want to criticise they have to be saying things loudly enough, like someone they don’t like. Nigel Farage shouldn’t be the voice of the Greek People, he shouldn’t be the voice of the British working class, he shouldn’t be the voice of British Labour working class voters, and left wing voters. Why is Nigel Farage that voice? Because nobody else spoke out. And that is the way History plays the game, right? I try to become one of those voices. He had a much bigger platform than me, so I joined that platform, but I don’t think you have to criticise him because the Left failed to speak.”.
Is the British Left in a crossroads because of Brexit?
“I think what is really fascinating is what cowardly actions they’ve taken. We have a Labour Party run by someone who has historically been associated with understanding the nature of the European Union. About the only thing Jeremy Corbyn and I ever agreed, in twenty five years, is our attitude towards the EU. He then runs the Labour Party, he is the head of the Labor Party, we got a referendum and he is quiet. He is silent and since then has played this allegedly pragmatic game of “maybe we leave”, but what is the point of leadership if you are so cowardly?”.
Why are you with Brexit?
“Initially, when they called the referendum, this wasn’t the major political point I was ever fighting in my life. I am not being a lifelong Eurosceptic. I simply understood that the EU was an antidemocratic force and it was always going to be holding back democratic decision making in this country. That was a problem, but it wasn’t my obsession. Then they called a referendum, which was straight forward, ‘cause they called it for their own cynical reasons. The conservatives believed they’d win and would settle the euro-question. But once they didn’t win that referendum, it became much more than Brexit. It is not Brexit now. Now it is about universal suffrage, about whether they respect voters, whether the establishment will get away with just overturning what ordinary people tell them to do, it’s about every institution that’s become brawled in this. When I was talking about Jeremy Corbin and the Left, off course not all of the Left, obviously… But, generally speaking, the main Left wing voices in this country decided not to lead the fight in defence of democratic rights. I think History will judge them for that, but that is why Brexit has become more than Brexit. And, actually, ironically, the Brexit Party has this slogan, which is “Time to Change Politics For Good”. It is kind of a bland cliche, but it is amazing how much it resonates with voters. They do feel that that’s it now, the mainstream parties have left us down, we really want a change. Just like the Hong Kong protesters started of with a rather modest demand about one piece of legislation and then week two they were saying “no, we want Lam to go”, and week four we are having a revolution, because as they up the stakes people rise to that. That is what happened with Brexit. It became far more than the European Union.”.
– It is often described as a question of the Markets VS Democracy.
“It amuses me that Jeremy Corbyn says “We don’t want a bankers’ Brexit”. But, ironically, the bankers actually didn’t back Brexit. They were absolutely clear “we want to stay in the EU”. The major banks, the multinationals… You know, the whole point about the European Union, which is not Europe, I know you understand that, but I mean lots of people still think that if you are anti-EU you must be anti-European and xenophobic, and not like foreigners, and be a little Englander… I consider myself to be European, internationalist, the opposite of anything xenophobia.
The European Union is a top-down imposition of a way of organising trade deals and the market to the interests of Big Capital, Multinationals, the Banks, without allowing the electorates and the popular sovereignty of each and every member state to get in the way. So they just say “These are the rules of the EU. But we only have the European Union because we believe in Peace and Harmony and we all love each other but conveniently while we’re doing that we’ll also make a lot of money out of it”. How can’t nobody see that? I can’t believe it! But yes, absolutely, this is not in the interests of ordinary people in the EU. And it is a real shame that trade unions and workers’ organisations have become so weakened in every country that they imagine that the workers rights will only be defended by the locals of the European Parliament or of the European judicial system. That is because we (the Left) are weak.”.
– There is a lot of discussion about the toughening of British Capitalism after Brexit.
“It is not an act of God. We leave the European Union and that is a political fight on our hands about what kind of society we have. But at least we got a say on it. That is the point about democracy, right? Do I think that Boris Johnson and the Conservative party are doing this because they believe in workers rights? Guess what, No, I don’t think that. Do I think that Nigel Farage and the Brexit Party are really interested in some of the things that I believe in? No, I know that. But the point about Democracy and Sovereignty is that we then say, kickstart a new society, it might be tough at the beginning, but we all know we’ll have an argument about what kind of society we’ll live in. And at least, when we have an argument we can have a say and it can mean something. I can speak as loud as I want in the European Union, no-one takes offence at this. And, they will say “the rules of the EU are these and we don’t care what the democratic will is.”. They just ignore it.”.
– Another major discussion is that about Ireland and the Troubles.
“This is one of the most unexpected aspects of this conversation, about Brexit. One thing that I would like to stress is that the Troubles – which we are all glad are no longer troubles- were not based on the fact that there was a customs border on the north of Ireland. You think that, that was the argument: whether I can take my cows over the border or not. The political problems on Northern Ireland were not based on whether we can take our cows or even our cigarettes over a border. It was based on gerrymandered elections, the lack of civil liberties in Northern Ireland, the civil rights movement and the fact that there were thirty thousand British troops sent to part of the UK, and due to things like the suspension of democratic and judicial rights.. I mean, there was a lot going on then. That resulted in a very bitter and violent conflict. Now, in the middle of this discussion about Brexit there are obviously things that need to be resolved about how to move goods from one part over an EU border, on the south, to Northern Ireland which is part of the UK. And then, people use this terrible story of the Troubles to say to people who voted to leave “you now want to bring back the Troubles”. As if, as soon as we have a customs union or a border there, of any description, people will take their guns. They didn’t take their guns because of that before! There was a lot more going on and so it feels as thou the whole issue is being politicised, weaponised, turned into something that is not. It is not that I don’t think it requires some sensitive intelligent reactions. But, to be fair to the Conservative party, and I am not often fair to them, when I looked all of the proposals they come up with, with different ideas for borders, they’ve done some proper work. I’ve been to various briefings where I’ve seen people who worked internationally on borders and on customs, and on all of the different things that you need to do, giving options. And what you’d think of the EU was really interested or Ireland was really interested is, at least look at this and consider it. I went to a meeting in Brussels as an MEP, in which I said, well, I’ve been to this interesting meeting where all those briefings came out, maybe you should talk to them. And the meeting was almost like, no, no, no this is rubbish. Actually Guy Verhofstadt said “Shhh! We are not looking at that”. That was before they looked at that. So, you feel they are not serious. What they were saying was that we are people who want to stay in the EU, come what may, and it was almost as the border was being used by them as an excuse to stay in the EU. But, we voted to leave and they have to accept that. And now the border has been politicised in the most cynical way.”.
-Trotskyists believe in getting in bed with the enemy, right?
“There is a danger of people trying to understand what’s happening in 2019 through the prism of some old political views. I was involved in a trotskyist organisation, the Revolutionary Communist Party, (RCP) which ended over twenty years, 22-23 years ago. As it happens it was a trotskyist organisation, it was quite small but I was proud to be part of. This is not some united front or some way of snicking in.. People say to me, “you went from the RCP to the Brexit Party”. But I didn’t. I went from the RCP to twenty years doing other things to the Brexit Party. And is not that I joined the Brexit Party as though I joined a revolutionary organisation. I’ve tried to explain that I only stood as an MEP for a new organisation existed to give some expression of hope to those people who voted to leave the European Union, to just say they were not abandoned by the Left. It is not quite the same as going in and trying to built a new party. There are more conspiratorial explanations for what I’ve done, coming from the Left… If they put as much energy into fight for, you know, workers’ rights or even Democracy, as they’ve done into trying to understand what I’ve done… And they all are saying, which I think it is really horrible, the number of people on the Left in this country, who on the one hand say, oh, you are a trotskyist you did this, and then the next minute they say you are a fascist, you are a fascist enabler, a racist… Can you imagine what is like being a lifelong antiracist, antifascist and having those things thrown at you… But that is the way of refusing to engage with you seriously, politically. Conspiratorial thinking or labelling you in a way that delegitimises you, means that you do not have to ever say, in a self reflecting moment, why is it that the British Left refuse to acknowledge that there was a valid Left Euro-sceptisism in this country, and a lot of them refused to lead it. They do not have to agree with me, but they should at least acknowledge this was a legitimate thing to do.”.
– A lot of young Greeks who came here after the eurozone crisis, fear that you are going to throw them out.
“Oh my goodness! That was never the intension. I have to say that this really come from the people who want to stay in the EU. You can’t underestimate the amount of scaremongering there is. When people say there’s been a rise in anti-foreigner atmosphere, and people are scared… Newspapers and commentators say, we voted to leave they do not like you as foreigners and you’ll be kicked out. No one who voted Leave thinks that. That was not the point. We try to leave the EU. It is disgraceful the Torries haven’t settled that, by the way. But, it is not xenophobic to want yo control your borders. It is part of your self determination. You do not close your borders, you control them. So, you stay and you can be settled and we love having you. Brexit was never meant to be Anti-foreigner. That is a means to discredit us.”.-