Jeremy Corbyn Signals Deep Doubts About Brussels But Urges Voters To Stay In The EU

Labour leader to make 'strong socialist case' for reforming the EU
David Cheskin/PA Wire

Jeremy Corbyn will make the “socialist case” for reforming Brussels today as he urges the British public to vote to staying the European Union.

In his most important speech on the issue to date, the Labour leader will underline his deep doubts about the EU’s lack of democratic accountability, its pressure to push for privatised services and lack of workers’ rights.

But Mr Corbyn will also say that his party is “overwhelmingly” in favour of an In vote in the EU referendum on June 23.

His nuanced position - which he will call “Remain and Reform” - follows fresh criticism among some Labour MPs that Mr Corbyn is fuelling the ‘Brexit’ case by failing to be full-throated in backing the EU.

Former Shadow Chancellor Chris Leslie warned last night that Mr Corbyn could undermine the 'In' vote if he was 'half-hearted' in his backing for the EU.

Yet Mr Corbyn will not change his long-held view that Brussels needs radical reform to allow countries to protect public services, nationalised industries and workers’ rights.

And his refusal to share a platform with David Cameron during the EU referendum campaign underlines the Labour leader’s determination to continue attacking the Tory government on issues such as cuts, steel jobs and tax transparency.

David Cameron with European Commission President Jean-Claude Juncker
David Cameron with European Commission President Jean-Claude Juncker
Geert Vanden Wijngaert/AP

A recent Opinium/Observer opinion poll found that while the overwhelming majority of voters knew that David Cameron was backing the In camp and Boris Johnson was backing the Out camp, just 47% knew which side Mr Corbyn was on.

During the Labour leadership campaign in 2015, when asked directly by HuffPostUK about the issue, Mr Corbyn refused to rule out campaigning for a “Leave” vote if Mr Cameron failed to back British workers.

Once he was leader, following intense pressure from his Shadow Cabinet, including Shadow Foreign Secretary Hilary Benn, he agreed to back the official party stance to support the “Remain” camp.

However, yesterday his office also made clear the distance between Mr Corbyn and Mr Cameron, as the Labour leader slammed the £9m cost of the Government’s pro-EU leaflet delivered this week.

Boris Johnson will lead a 48-hour 'Brexit blitz' this weekend, with speeches in Manchester, Leeds and Newcastle, while Labour's deputy leader Tom Watson will also visit 25 cities in May to make the pro-EU case.

Jeremy Corbyn
Jeremy Corbyn
Nick Ansell/PA Wire

In his speech in central London, Mr Corbyn will say that Labour wants the UK to stay in the EU - "warts and all" - because of its protections for jobs, consumers and the environment.

He will say that the 21st century will need “international cooperation” on issues such as climate change, cyber-crime, refugees, terrorism and dealing with “the overweening power of global corporations” to ensure they pay “fair taxes”.

“Collective international action through the European Union is clearly going to be vital to meeting these challenges. Britain will be stronger if we co-operate with our neighbours in facing them together,” he will say.

But Mr Corbyn - who voted for Britain to quit the Common Market in the 1975 referendum - will also stress that he has not changed his mind about some of the downsides of membership of the EU.

“Over the years I have continued to be critical of many decisions taken by the EU and I remain critical of its shortcomings, from its lack of democratic accountability to the institutional pressure to deregulate or privatise public services.

“So Europe needs to change. But that change can only come from working with our allies in the EU. It’s perfectly possible to be critical and still be convinced we need to remain a member".

Former Greek Finance Minister Yanis Varoufakis at the TUC
Former Greek Finance Minister Yanis Varoufakis at the TUC
Rick Findler/PA Archive

A sympathiser with the Greek Government's bitter battle with Brussels over its budget, Mr Corbyn will call for more democratic reform “to make the EU more accountable to its people”.

He will urge “new rights for governments and elected authorities to support public enterprise and halt the pressure to privatise services”.

“So the case I’m making is for ‘Remain - and Reform’ in Europe.

“There is a strong socialist case for staying in the European Union, just as there are is also a powerful socialist case for reform and progressive change in Europe.”

Port Talbot workers outside their steel plant
Port Talbot workers outside their steel plant
Ben Birchall/PA Wire

Mr Corbyn will say that the steel industry is a good example where the UK needs reforms to make “progressive alliances across the EU” and to back new tariffs on Chinese steel dumping.

“There are certainly problems about EU state aid rules, which need reform. But if, as the Leave side argues it is the EU that is the main problem. How is it, that Germany, Italy, France and Spain have all done so much better at protecting their steel industries?”

Last night on the BBC’s Newsnight, former Shadow Chancellor Chris Leslie said that Mr Corbyn had to be more vocal and passionate in supporting the In campaign.

“He says that he wants us to stay in the European Union. I believe that. But I think that he’s got to give the impression that it is absolutely what he believes,” Mr Leslie said.

Former Shadow Chancellor Chris Leslie
Former Shadow Chancellor Chris Leslie
Laura Lean/PA Archive

“If we send out vibes that it’s half-hearted somehow, the public will notice that. They will spot it.

"And maybe that won’t motivate the millions of voters that we need to make sure that this isn’t a knife-edge vote, this is a decisive vote for staying in the European Union.”

Former Shadow Business Secretary Chuka Umunna also cautioned against a ‘nuanced’ case for staying In.

“The EU is in need of reform, but that isn’t the question on the ballot paper,” he told Newsnight.

Shadow Commons leader Chris Bryant said it was clear that Mr Corbyn was not a ‘passionate Inner’ but his journey from calling to leave the Common Market in the 1970s to backing the EU today could help swing voters.

In his speech, Mr Corbyn will say that the Tory Government - as well as its Eurosceptic MPs - is to blame for the culture of blaming problems on immigrants.

"It is sometimes easier to blame the EU, or worse to blame foreigners than to face up to our own problems. At the head of which right now is a Conservative government that is failing the people of Britain.

“There is nothing remotely patriotic about selling off our country and our national assets to the highest bidder, or in handing control of our economy to City hedge-funds and tax-dodging corporations based in offshore tax havens.

“You cannot build a better world unless you engage with the world, build allies and deliver change. The EU, warts and all, has proved itself to be a crucial international framework to do that.”

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