Jeremy Corbyn: Nothing half-hearted about my EU support
Jeremy Corbyn has denied giving only “half-hearted” support for Britain remaining in the European Union, as he made his first major speech on the subject.
The Labour leader, who voted against Britain remaining part of the then European Economic Community in 1975, said environmental protections, workers’ rights and the ability to crack down on tax avoidance would suffer if the UK left the EU.
David Cameron welcomed Mr Corbyn’s intervention, despite the Labour leader dedicating as much time to attacking the Conservatives in his speech as making the case for the EU.
In a speech at UCL’s Senate House – which Mr Corbyn noted was the inspiration for the Ministry of Truth in George Orwell’s 1984 – he said Labour was “overwhelmingly” in favour of a Remain vote in June’s referendum.
His previous criticisms of the bloc, which he said today he “absolutely” did not disavow, and his reluctance to engage with the campaign so far have led to questions over his commitment to the Remain cause.
But he insisted he stood foursquare behind the campaign.
“There’s nothing half-hearted about what we’re doing, there’s nothing half-hearted about our campaigning, there’s nothing half-hearted about our alliances,” Mr Corbyn said in a Q&A session.
“We are putting forward a political agenda about social justice in this country, driving down tax evasion in this country. But we’re also putting the international case on human rights and justice, and social justice, all across Europe. That’s what we’re doing and you’ll hear plenty from us on this. There’s nothing half-hearted about anything I do.”
He hit out at the Conservatives for their policies on the environment, tax, steel, and workers’ rights.
And he took aim at the comments from Tory MP Sir Alan Duncan, saying: “They believe this tiny global elite is what matters, not the rest of us, who they dismiss as ‘low achievers’.”
Despite the attacks, the Prime Minister said he was pleased Mr Corbyn had made the speech.
“I absolutely welcome Jeremy Corbyn’s intervention,” Mr Cameron said.
“The truth is this, there are lots of things we disagree about between Labour, Liberals, Greens and others, but the fact is we all come together to support the idea of Britain staying in a reformed European Union. And I think that’s a great team getting behind this campaign.”
A number of Labour MPs have been putting pressure on Mr Corbyn to be a more visible presence in the campaign.
Chuka Umunna, one of the most prominent backbenchers pushing for a Remain vote, praised his party leader for coming forward today.
But Kate Hoey, who is campaigning to leave the EU, said she was “disappointed” by Mr Corbyn’s comments.
She told BBC News: “What does surprise me of course is I don’t believe Jeremy has gone back on all his views at all about what he thought about the EU. And I think Labour voters and Labour supporters will find it very strange that he is now lining up with the CBI, with David Cameron and with the multinationals who are desperate for us to stay in the EU...
“He doesn’t really mean it no matter how much he tries to pretend he does.”
Mr Corbyn also said he did not believe too many immigration from EU nations into Britain was too high.
“I don’t think too many have come,” he said.
“I think that the issue has to be of wages and regulations, which I included in my speech. And it’s employers that try to undercut industry-wide agreements in the construction industry and others that are the problem.”