Jeremy Corbyn Just Gave A Pro-EU Speech And It Wasn't Very Pro-EU
The Labour leader's big speech was meant to underline the party's Remain position. But it just ended up complicating things.
Jeremy Corbyn has made a big speech aimed at underlining Labour's pro-European Union stance. With just three weeks until the referendum on whether Britain should remain part of the EU, the party wants to make sure all its voters know where it stands.
However, Corbyn’s speech in London on Thursday contained plenty of ambiguity. He kicked it off with an attack on pro-EU Conservative cabinet ministers, pouring scorn on George Osborne's prediction of a year-long recession if Britain opts to leave.
And he warned that the trade deal being negotiated between the EU and US – the Transatlantic Trade and Investment Partnership (TTIP) – could "make privatisation effectively irreversible". Opening his speech, he said the EU only had the "potential" to deliver positive change.
This was no ringing endorsement. But he was – eventually – clear that change could only be achieved in Europe by "working with our allies" and concluded: "There is an overwhelming case to remain and reform."
Like many other Labour figures, Corbyn campaigned against the EU when the UK last had a referendum on its membership in 1975, on the basis that it took power away from national parliaments and centred on free markets. He continued to adopt a Eurosceptic approach during last summer’s leadership contest.
In his speech, Corbyn said too much of the EU debate had been "dominated by myth-making and prophecies of doom". He warned: "In the final stage of this referendum, as we get closer to what is expected by many to be a very tight vote, it does not help the debate over such a serious issue if the hype and histrionic claims continue or worse intensify.
"I believe the EU has the potential to deliver positive change for the people of Britain if there was a radical, reforming government to drive that agenda."
Having a pop at the chancellor, who has been vigorously campaigning for Britain to stay in the EU, Corbyn said: "Just over a week ago, George Osborne claimed that the British economy would enter a year-long recession if we voted to leave. This is the same George Osborne who predicted his austerity policies would close the deficit by 2015. That’s now scheduled for 2021.
"It’s the same George Osborne who said the British economy would be 'carried aloft by the march of the makers' yet the manufacturing sector has stagnated ever since, and manufacturing employment declined.
"The biggest risk of recession in this country is from a Conservative government that is failing – failing on the deficit, failing on the debt, failing to rebalance the economy, and failing to boost productivity."
Leave campaigners promptly seized on his remarks as proof that Osborne's claims of a recession in the event of Brexit were worthless.
Corbyn also criticised TTIP, warning that negotiations were being carried out "largely in secret". "Many people are concerned, rightly, that it could open up public services to further privatisation – and make privatisation effectively irreversible," he said.
"Others are concerned about any potential watering down of consumer rights, food safety standards, rights at work or environmental protections, and the facility for corporations to sue national governments if regulations impinged on their profits. I share those concerns."
Corbyn challenged David Cameron to make clear that if Britain votes Remain, "you will block any TTIP trade treaty that threatens our public services, our consumer and employment rights, and that hands over power to giant corporations to override democratically elected governments".
But he ended the speech on a more positive note. "We, the Labour party, are overwhelmingly for staying in, because we believe the European Union has brought investment, jobs and protection for workers, consumers, and the environment," he said.
"But also because we recognise that 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 cybercrime and terrorism, on ensuring trade is fair with protections for workers and consumers, and in addressing refugee movements.
"Britain will be stronger if we cooperate with our neighbours in facing those challenges together."
Corbyn said there was an "overwhelming case to remain and reform so that we build on the best that Europe has achieved". But he warned: "That will only happen if we elect a Labour government, committed to engaging with our allies to deliver real improvements in the lives of the people of our country."
He was asked by Sky News after the speech whether his criticisms of pro-EU Tory ministers and Treasury forecasts was "muddying the waters". "No I don't think it is at all," he replied. "It's pointing out there's a distinctive view we take – we obviously disagree with the economic strategy being pursued by this government."