Jeremy Corbyn urges Labour supporters to vote to stay in EU
British Labour Party leader cites ‘socialist case’ for remaining in European Union
Labour Party leader Jeremy Corbyn: “Just imagine what the Tories would do to workers’ rights here in Britain if we voted to leave the EU in June. They’d dump rights on equal pay, working time, annual leave, for agency workers, and on maternity pay as fast as they could get away with it.” Photograph: Carl Court/Getty
Jeremy Corbyn has called on Labour supporters to vote to stay in the European Union, arguing that, despite the EU’s shortcomings, there was a “socialist case” for remaining part of it. In his first major intervention in the referendum campaign, the British Labour leader acknowledged that he voted in 1975 for Britain to leave the Common Market and that he had been a harsh critic of the EU ever since.
“When the last referendum was held in 1975, Europe was divided by the cold war, and what later became the EU was a much smaller, purely market-driven arrangement. Over the years I have been 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,” he said.
“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.”
Mr Corbyn said the EU had benefited British working people by guaranteeing employment rights, including four weeks’ paid holiday, maternity and paternity leave, protections for agency workers and health and safety in the workplace. But he said it needed serious reform that Labour could achieve by working with like-minded groups across Europe.
“That means democratic reform to make the EU more accountable to its people. Economic reform to end to self-defeating austerity and put jobs and sustainable growth at the centre of European policy, labour market reform to strengthen and extend workers’ rights in a real social Europe. And new rights for governments and elected authorities to support public enterprise and halt the pressure to privatise services,” he said.
He said that Conservative governments, rather than EU rules, were responsible for privatising British industry and utilities and failing to take action to protect the steel industry and he expressed confidence that the Transatlantic Trade and Investment Partnership (TTIP) could be defeated.
“Just imagine what the Tories would do to workers’ rights here in Britain if we voted to leave the EU in June. They’d dump rights on equal pay, working time, annual leave, for agency workers, and on maternity pay as fast as they could get away with it. It would be a bonfire of rights that Labour governments secured within the EU,” he said.
“Not only that, it wouldn’t be a Labour government negotiating a better settlement for working people with the EU. It would be a Tory government, quite possibly led by Boris Johnson and backed by Nigel Farage, that would negotiate the worst of all worlds: a free market free-for-all shorn of rights and protections.”
Answering questions after his speech Mr Corbyn said he did not recant on any of his previous criticism of the EU, comparing his approach to Europe to his determination to change the Labour Party. He dismissed the suggestion that Britain was experiencing too much immigration and said he wanted Britain to take a more constructive approach to the European migration crisis.
“There has to be an attitude of mind that every one of those people that is shuttling now between Turkey and Greece, all those people in refugee camps in Greece, or indeed people in refugee camps in Calais or Dunkirk – they’re all human beings, just like you and me. In a different set of circumstances we could all be in those refugee camps.
“Therefore I want to be part of a voice demanding a humanitarian and human approach dealing with this, that every European country plays its part, as Germany has done, in supporting and taking refugees so that they can live and contribute,” he said.