Friday

1st Mar 2024

Doubts over new Labour leader's EU views

  • Jeremy Corbyn said he wants "greater social solidarity across Europe", not "a market agenda". (Photo: Ciarran Norris)

The election of Jeremy Corbyn as Labour party leader on Saturday (12 September) is dividing the party and has raised doubts about Labour's position on EU membership.

Corbyn, who was elected by party members with a 59.5 percent majority, has so far refused to say whether he would campaign for or against Britain staying in the EU when a referendum is held in 2016 or 2017.

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On Sunday, Labour shadow business secretary Chuka Umunna resigned over "differences, not least on the European referendum".

"It is my view that we should support the UK remaining a member of the EU, notwithstanding the outcome of any renegotiation by the prime minister, and I cannot envisage any circumstances where I would be campaigning alongside those who would argue for us to leave," Umunna said.

"Jeremy has made it clear to me that he does not wholeheartedly share this view."

Labour's new deputy leader, Tom Watson, also admitted differences with Corbyn over Nato, which Corbyn wants Britain to leave, and over the replacement of the Trident nuclear weapon, which Corbyn opposes. He also suggested differences over EU membership.

"I will be Yes to Europe definitely, and I hope we can convince the Labour Party, those sceptics in the Labour Party, that that is where Labour needs to be in the referendum," he said on BBC Television on Sunday.

'Red herrings'

A Corbyn ally, however, sought to alleviate doubts, saying talks of leaving Nato and the EU were "red herrings".

"That’s not the programme [Corbyn] competed to be the leader on. I can say with confidence, Jeremy is not taking us out of Nato and he is not taking us out of the EU," she told BBC Radio on Sunday.

Corbyn reshuffled the shadow cabinet on Sunday and kept Hilary Benn, who was appointed last May, as shadow foreign secretary.

Benn, who was a member of Tony Blair's and Gordon Brown's governments, is a supporter of EU membership.

"I will be voting for Britain to remain in the EU," he wrote before summer.

"The fact is, we have more power as a nation because we are in the EU than we could ever hope to have by acting alone."

Opponent of 'too liberal' Europe

Corbyn, a hard-left socialist, has long been an opponent of the EU, which he considers as too liberal.

"What I want to see is greater social solidarity across Europe," he told Reuters press agency last month.

"I'm for a sort of social, environmental, solidarity agenda rather than a market agenda."

During the Labour leadership campaign, it emerged that Corbyn voted No to the last EU membership referendum in Britain, in 1975.

When asked in July whether he would be campaigning for the No to EU membership at the next referendum, he said: "I wouldn't rule it out...Because Cameron quite clearly follows an agenda which is about trading away workers' rights, is about trading away environmental protection, is about trading away much of what is in the social chapter."

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