Jeremy Corbyn and the EU – it’s complicated

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April 19, 2016 by Paul Goldsmith


Understanding Jeremy Corbyn’s position on the EU Referendum is at the same time difficult and easy. The truth is that Corbyn’s attitude sums up what’s wrong with his leadership, the current state of the Labour Party AND the democratic deficit the EU represents very well.

It is difficult to understand his position because Corbyn voted against staying in Europe in 1975, was elected on the back of a Labour manifesto in 1983 that promised to withdraw from the EC, and no matter how hard people look, there is little to no evidence of him having said anything positive about the UK’s membership. Instead, he has often maintained, along with John McDonnell, his Shadow Chancellor, that the EU is some sort of capitalist conspiracy that allows the rich to maintain dominance over the worker and corporation to maintain power over the state. They reserve particular ire for the Transatlantic Trade and Investment Partnership (TTIP), with its appearance of support for companies suing the state should the latter cost their investors money  with policies on, say, the environment or sugar content. Corbyn was pretty clear during his leadership campaign that he was considering voting no in the referendum if David Cameron didn’t protect workers’ rights in his negotiations (Cameron didn’t).

Yet there we were last Thursday with Corbyn giving his much heralded speech on why he was supporting the REMAIN campaign. Somehow we were to be led to believe he had been on a ‘a journey’ to supporting the case for staying in Europe. He talked of the protection for workers rights, social services and the environment that the EU provides, and said that the Labour Party believed these were too important to abandon.

Therein lies the reason why it is easy to understand Jeremy Corbyn’s position on Europe. He spoke almost entirely in the third person. This man, whose slogan throughout his leadership campaign had been “straight talking, honest politics” had decided to abandon both in an attempt to keep his party together. The Labour Party in Parliament is unashamedly pro-Europe, which, by the way, isn’t the case with Labour members as a whole and definitely not the case with what used to be the ‘core vote’ of the party, namely the working class people who have been slipping away to UKIP as their concerns about the increased supply of labour from immigrants forcing their already meagre wages down and making it seem more difficult for them to get housing and school places etc were met with cries of “racist” from those who live around Islington who will never know what it is like to live on that breadline.

But, whilst he is prepared to fight his Parliamentary Party on the issue of Trident, he is not prepared to do so on Europe. Hence his speech last Thursday, which was most probably  the result of a backroom deal with certain members of his shadow cabinet in exchange for their silence on issues that cause him difficulty.

Just think about Corbyn’s case for staying in, he argued that whilst there are problems with the EU, we should accept it “warts and all”. He talked of protection of environmental legislation, even though that legislation has helped raise the cost of energy to the Port Talbot steel plant he talks so avidly of saving. He talked of the protection for social and workers rights, which are all well and good, but that, as Nicola Sturgeon has admitted, is far more about using the EU to ‘stop the Tories’, which means using them to do what the ballot box couldn’t do. For someone who likes to talk about democracy and mandates a lot, it is interesting how Corbyn is happy to reduce the sovereignty of an elected government when it suits him.

But let’s be under no illusion, the REMAIN campaign need Jeremy Corbyn. If we get the same turnout at this referendum as at the General election last year, and assuming only 6 million of the Conservative voters vote to stay, the REMAIN campaign would require all 9 million of those that voted Labour to vote to stay. Having a leader so uninterested in all this is not helpful. Corbyn will, of course, refuse to ‘share a platform’ with Cameron (because although he has clearly dropped his principles on this one his liking for posture politics will still win out) but unless he ups his game Labour’s choice of leader at a time when they knew an EU referendum could happen could make all the difference.

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