Corbyn Makes U.K. Labour Case to Stay in EU, `Warts and All'

The Brexit Debate: What Happens if the U.K. Leaves the EU
  • World has changed since he opposed membership of bloc in 1975
  • `Leave' campaigners due to announce if they're seeking review

U.K. opposition leader Jeremy Corbyn said his Labour Party is “overwhelmingly” in favor of staying in the European Union, making his most detailed intervention to date before voters head to the polls on June 23 for a referendum on Britain’s membership.

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Britain will be better placed to deal with issues from climate change and tax avoidance to terrorism and the refugee crisis by staying in the 28-nation bloc, Corbyn said Thursday in a speech in London, as opponents of membership braced for a possible legal challenge that could distract from their campaign.

“Collective international action through the European Union is clearly going to help meeting these vital challenges,” Corbyn 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.”

The Labour leader made the case to remain as Leave.EU, one of the groups opposing British membership, was scheduled to make an announcement at noon on whether it will seek a legal challenge of the Electoral Commission’s decision to designate another organization, Vote Leave, the official lead campaigner. Arron Banks, a co-founder of Leave.EU, said Wednesday that he might seek a judicial review of the decision and warned it could lead to the vote being delayed until October, a claim rejected by the prime minister’s office. The noon deadline passed without any announcement.

The officially designated campaigns will receive a state grant of as much as 600,000 pounds ($850,000) and be permitted to spend as much as 7 million pounds, compared with 700,000 pounds for other registered campaigners. They will also be allocated television broadcasts and free mail shots to voters.

1975 Vote

Corbyn, meanwhile, is trying to end any doubts about his support for EU membership, after his reluctance to endorse it following his election as leader in September led to the party’s business spokesman, Chuka Umunna, refusing to serve in his shadow cabinet. Corbyn voted to leave the bloc in the 1975 referendum and has criticized the EU over the past four decades. 

“The fact that we voted differently in 1975 reflected the split that existed in the Labour Party at the time,” Alan Johnson, the former Labour minister leading the party’s campaign to stay in the EU, said in remarks introducing Corbyn. “Now there is unity in Labour’s ranks.”

Campaigners for Britain to leave the bloc circulated a list of Corbyn’s past statements about the EU on Thursday in response to his proposed comments.

“We’ve been on a journey in those 40 years, the world has changed,” Hilary Benn, Labour’s foreign-policy spokesman and son of Corbyn’s mentor, Tony Benn, told BBC Radio 4. “If more of the world could work together, trade together, cooperate together as the EU does, we’d have more progress, more prosperity and more peace in the world.”

Corbyn said that “there’s nothing half-hearted” about his campaign, and his support now for the EU is consistent with his criticism of the bloc in the past.

“Over the years I, and many others, been very critical of many decisions taken by the EU and I remain very critical of its shortcomings, from its lack of democratic accountability to the institutional pressures to deregulate or privatize public services,” Corbyn said. “You cannot build a better world unless you engage with the world, build allies and deliver change. The European Union, many warts and all, has proved itself to be a crucial international framework to do that.”

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