Brexit-backing Labour MPs round on Corbyn for pro-EU intervention
Anti-EU Labour MPs have accused Jeremy Corbyn of reneging on his “core beliefs” by arguing the case for staying in the European Union.
The Labour leader this morning adhered to calls from within his party to make a significant intervention in the EU referendum debate, as concerns mounted that he still harbours eurosceptic beliefs.
The Islington North MP voted to leave the European Economic Community in 1975 and was lukewarm in his support for voting for Remain during the Labour leadership contest.
Prominent Brexit-backing MP Kate Hoey claimed Mr Corbyn delivered his speech today to appease senior Labour frontbenchers including Shadow Foreign Secretary Hilary Benn.
She also claimed that the leader has put in danger Labour’s chance of success in upcoming council elections by going against the grain of popular opinion among Labour voters on the EU debate.
“I am disappointed, I’m not surprised at what Jeremy is doing today because Jeremy is very keen as leader to keep the party together, to keep the Shadow Cabinet together and is desperate to keep Hilary Benn in his position as Shadow Foreign Secretary,” 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.”
She added: “He does seem to be putting his party first, in my view, before the country. And I’m disappointed that he is not allowing greater debate.
“There is a debate going on, but we’re in a situation now where we will see in the council elections there could be a real danger to Labour because in parts of the country Labour voters have been disillusioned by some of our views, not just on the EU but on other issues and they’ve been moving away from us.”
Speaking in central London, Mr Corbyn rejected claims he was giving only “half-hearted” support for the pro-EU campaign and argued environmental protections, workers’ rights and the ability to crack down on tax avoidance would suffer if the UK left the EU.
But Labour MP Graham Stringer, who is also in favour of Brexit, said while he was not surprised by Mr Corbyn’s intervention, his party leader was still a eurosceptic at heart.
“I’m disappointed but not surprised. I’ve talked to Jeremy and it was quite clear that he’s decided as leader of the Labour party to go in for party management and management of his relationships with the trade unions, rather than what have been his core beliefs,” he told the BBC’s Daily Politics.
“Every time I voted against issues about the European Union in the House of Commons, Jeremy has been in the same lobby as I’ve been and I’ve no reason to really believe that he’s changed his core beliefs on those issues."
But pro-EU Labour MPs were quick off the blocks to praise Mr Corbyn for his speech.
Chuka Umunna, the former frontbencher, said he was “delighted” by the veteran’s “powerful, progressive case” for staying in the EU.
He also drew unlikely praise from David Cameron.
“I absolutely welcome Jeremy Corbyn’s intervention,” the Prime Minister told reporters.
“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."
Meanwhile, Unite general secretary Len McCluskey said the public would be glad to find Mr Corbyn “on their side” in the debate.
"Outside of the EU, we will be at the mercy of a right-wing Conservative government determined to push that agenda still further," he said in a statement.
"Even to those who feel let down by the EU, it is abundantly clear that only by staying in the EU will UK working people have any protection against the determined Conservative assault on our rights and living standards."