An EU-US free trade deal would be bad for British workers’ rights and risk further privatisation, Jeremy Corbyn is set to warn today.
In a keynote speech aimed at persuading Britons to stay in the European Union, the Labour leader will make clear his opposition to the so-called Transatlantic Trade and Investment Partnership (TTIP), party sources have told HuffPostUK.
Putting clear distance between himself and David Cameron, who has hailed the planned deal as a multi-billion pound boost to jobs and investment, Corbyn will make clear his own deep misgivings about the proposals.
Speaking at the Institute of Engineering Technology on Thursday, he is expected to praise the EU for securing paid holidays, part-time work protection and maternity rights – and predict that Brexit would result in Tory ministers further weakening workers’ rights.
But Corbyn will strike a markedly different tone from previous Labour leaders who have in the past been broadly in favour of the EU-US trade deal that Cameron has made a centrepiece of his case to stay in the European Union.
Anti-TTIP protests have been staged in recent years in the UK, Germany, France, Italy and Spain.
Fears range from environmentalists worried that American GM crops would flood Europe to trade unions concerned at workers' health and safety and other rights being undermined.
Before he became leader last year, Corbyn had spent years making a vigorous case against TTIP, declaring it would “allow companies to control governments”.
After becoming leader, he appeared to tone down his criticism to avoid a row with Labour MPs who back the broad move towards a free trade deal that could boost the economy.
Official party policy is to support “the principles” behind the deal - as long as it includes protections for the NHS, the environment and workers’ rights, as well as the scrapping of plans to allow firms to sue governments for lost profits.
Earlier this year, Corbyn said in a Commons statement that human rights should be inserted into any trade deal.
Today, he will underline his “remain-and-reform” position on the EU referendum due on June 23, declaring that any government he leads would not sign up to the EU-US trade deal in its current form.
David Cameron and Barack Obama have both repeatedly cited TTIP as one of the main reasons for the UK to remain in the EU, pointing to the benefits it could bring to jobs and growth.
But the Prime Minister last month had to fend off a rebellion among his own Eurosceptic MPs, who claimed the trade deal failed to protect the NHS from American companies who want to take over key services.
Labour MPs teamed up with Tory rebels and SNP and other MPs to force Cameron into amending his own Queen's Speech on the issue. And a similar Parliamentary alliance could be used to defeat any TTIP proposal that is put before the Commons before the 2020 general election.
Corbyn is set to suggest that not only the NHS but other public services face a threat from the free trade deal.
The Labour leader has been under pressure to do more to mobilise his own party's supporters in the EU referendum.
New GMB leader Tim Roache has told the BBC there's a risk of Brexit if the party's voters stay at home, warning Corbyn has to stop looking like a 'half-hearted' Remain campaigner.
But allies of Corbyn say his stress on the need to reform Europe is a better pitch to Labour voters worried about the downsides of the EU.
"A Labour government will protect the gains that have benefited our people while energetically pushing for progressive reform in Europe, in alliance with our allies across the continent, a vision of a Europe of co-operation and solidarity,” Corbyn will say.
“We can reform to get a better deal for consumers; to strengthen workers’ rights across Europe and prevent the undercutting of wages; to meet the challenges posed by migration and the refugee crisis; to end the pressure to privatise public services; to democratise the EU’s institution and bring them closer to people; and for reforms to ensure we generate prosperity across Europe to the benefit of all.”
In his speech, Corbyn will defend the EU’s ‘social chapter’ and other directives that have benefitted British workers.
“A vote to Leave means a Conservative government would then be in charge of negotiating Britain’s exit,” he will say.
“Everything they have done as a government so far means we could not rely on them to protect the workplace rights that millions rely on.”
Corbyn will point out that more than 26 million workers in Britain benefit from being entitled to 28 days of paid leave and a limit to how many hours they can be forced to work, while eight million part-time workers now have equal rights with full-time colleagues.
He will say Labour is “overwhelmingly” for an In vote, because the EU offers a multi-nation approach to problems like climate change, cybercrime and terrorism.
But he will add the key caveat that the UK will insist on fair trade rather than free trade, to protect workers.
“Our membership offers a crucial route to meeting the challenges we face in the 21st century, on climate change, on restraining the power of global corporations and ensuring they pay fair taxes, on tackling cyber-crime and terrorism, on ensuring trade is fair with protections for workers and consumers and in addressing refugee movements,” he will say.