Jeremy Corbyn says EU membership the best way to protect workers' rights

Despite campaigning to leave during the last referendum, the Labour leader now believes it is better to remain in to ‘protect social and human rights, tackle climate change and clamp down on tax dodgers’

Oliver Wright
Political Editor
Thursday 14 April 2016 12:46

Remaining in the European Union is the best way to protect the environment, the NHS and workers rights, Jeremy Corbyn has said, as he called on Labour voters to back Britain’s continued membership of the EU.

In a long-awaited speech ahead of June’s referendum, the Labour leader admitted he was still critical of Brussels “shortcomings” but argued that reforming the organisation from within was better than leaving all together.

It comes as a new poll found that voters now trust Mr Corbyn more than they do David Cameron on the issue of whether Britain should remain or leave the EU.

However the tone of his speech will to do little to assuage pro-Europeans within his party who argue that Mr Corbyn has so far failed to throw the full weight of his leadership behind the ‘remain’ cause.

In particular Mr Corbyn, who campaigned for Britain to leave the EU in the last referendum in the 1970s, made little attempt to hide his continued euroscepticism suggesting the organisation continues to lack “democratic accountability”.

However he argued that despite these concerns he still believes it is better for Britain to remain in the European Union “warts and all”.

“Over the years I have continued to be 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 in the speech at Senate House in London.

“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“.

Corbyn and Cameron clash

“You cannot build a better world unless you engage with the world, build allies and deliver change. The EU, warts and all, has proved itself to be a crucial international framework to do that.”

Mr Corbyn said some of the faults laid at the EU’s door by the left – such as the failure to crack down on tax avoidance and the problems with saving the steel industry - are more to do with failures by the Conservative Government rather than an intrinsic problem with Europe.

“It is sometimes easier to blame the EU, or worse to blame foreigners than to face up to our own problems. At the head of which right now is a Conservative government that is failing the people of Britain,” he said.

“There is nothing remotely patriotic about selling off our country and our national assets to the highest bidder, or in handing control of our economy to City hedge-funds and tax-dodging corporations based in offshore tax havens.

“There is a strong socialist case for staying in the European Union, just as there are is also a powerful socialist case for reform and progressive change in Europe.

“That is why we need a Labour government, to stand up at the European level for industries and communities in Britain, to back public enterprise and services, to protect and extend workers’ rights and to work with our allies to make both Britain and Europe work better for working people.”

Tellingly, however, in much of the speech Mr Corbyn reiterated the position of the Labour party in favour of EU membership – rather individually endorsing that position himself.

In one section he said: “The Labour party is overwhelmingly for staying in, because we believe the European Union has brought investment, jobs and protection for workers, consumers and the environment, and offers the best chance of meeting the challenges we face in the 21st century.

“Labour is convinced that a vote to remain is in the best interests of the people of this country.”

Neither did he make mention of his own change of heart on Europe since 1975 with some in party still believing that privately he is still opposed to Britain’s membership.

But Mr Corbyn said making the EU more socialist from within was better than leaving altogether.

“There is a strong socialist case for staying in the European Union,” he said.

“Just as there is also a powerful socialist case for reform and progressive change in Europe.

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