One of Jeremy Corbyn’s strongest Eurosceptic backers wants an explanation for why it was today announced the party would campaign to stay in the EU “under all circumstances”.
Kelvin Hopkins, one of Labour’s most prominent eurosceptics who nominated Mr Corbyn for the leadership, was shocked this afternoon when he learnt the Shadow Foreign Secretary Hilary Benn had made the pledge.
Mr Corbyn has often spoken out against the EU, and during the leadership campaign indicated he was ready to join an 'Out' campaign if David Cameron trades away workers’ rights, environmental protection and fails to crack down on Brussels-backed tax havens.
Mr Hopkins, MP for Luton North, questioned whether Mr Benn had his “script approved” ahead of his appearance on the BBC this morning.
He was visibly shocked when The Huffington Post UK read him the remarks during a fringe ‘No to EU, No To TTIP’ meeting at the TUC Conference in Brighton.
He said: “I’m surprised at Hilary Benn’s comments. I just wonder if that’s been cleared with the new leader of the Labour Party because obviously there’s going to be a battle between the euro-enthusiasts and those who take a more sceptical position.
“But Jeremy and indeed John McDonnell have been more sceptical about that. Was his script approved? I don’t know if it was or was he speaking for himself?
“I think there’s a lot of people even in the Parliamentary Labour Party who would be uncomfortable about that. They don’t want to take that kind of hard line. I will be asking when I get back to Parliament who allowed Hilary to go and say that.”
Mr Corbyn’s eurosceptism set him apart from his leadership rivals, who all wanted the UK to remain in the organisation.
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In a statement the former Shadow Business Secretary said he “cannot envisage any circumstances” where he would campaign to leave the EU, but Mr Corbyn “does not wholeheartedly share this view”.
Mr Corbyn’s opposition to the EU echoes the views of left-wing icon Tony Benn, who campaigned for the UK to leave the then-EEC in the 1975 referendum.
This morning on BBC Radio 4’s Today Programme, Tony Benn’s son, Hilary, said: "We will be campaigning, and are campaigning now, for Britain to remain part of the EU," he said. "Under all circumstances."
He added: "Jeremy has made it very clear we are going to stay to fight together for a better Europe."
A spokesperson for Mr Benn was asked if the Shadow Foreign Secretary had the permission of Mr Corbyn to make the comments.
The spokesperson replied: “Hilary is Shadow Foreign Secretary, appointed by Jeremy Corbyn.”