Newly elected opposition Labour leader Jeremy Corbyn’s reluctance to endorse his party’s previously pro-European Union stance has the potential to help those campaigning for Britain to stay in the bloc.
The party’s former business spokesman, Chuka Umunna, said Sunday he refused to work for Corbyn after the new leader “made it clear to me that he does not wholeheartedly share” his desire to campaign for Britain to stay in the EU in the referendum Prime Minister David Cameron has pledged before the end of 2017. Other senior Labour figures have since joined Umunna in declining to serve in the new leader’s team.
“The lack of credibility of the shadow cabinet will give those on the outside campaigning to stay in the EU, like Umunna, much more weight,” said Pawel Swidlicki, an analyst at the Open Europe think tank in London. “So while this is a much more euro-skeptic Labour shadow cabinet, those outside who are pro-EU will seem much more credible.”
Corbyn’s appointment of John McDonnell, a hardline socialist, as finance spokesman sparked further refusals from senior Labour figures and incredulity among some of the party’s more moderate lawmakers. Corbyn completed the announcement of his top team on Monday after winning almost 60 percent of votes in his party’s leadership election two days earlier.
While Labour’s new foreign affairs spokesman, Hilary Benn, sought on Monday to counter Umunna’s statement by insisting the party “will be campaigning to remain in the EU under all circumstances,” Corbyn, who in 1975 voted for Britain to leave the bloc, has not responded publicly to Umunna’s comments.
U.K. Independence Party leader Nigel Farage’s appeal earlier this month for Corbyn to join his anti-EU campaign may further isolate the Labour leader if he decides not to campaign for Britain to stay in the bloc.
“Back in 1975, it was the people on the extreme left and right who were saying you’ve got to come out and everyone in the center wanted to stay in,” said Wyn Grant, professor of politics at the University of Warwick. “There could be a replay of that. For the time being, Corbyn will probably just sit on the fence.”