Corbyn Gives Few Clues on Brexit in Pitch to U.K. Opposition

  • Speech of 5,800 words gives 278 to question of leaving EU
  • Leader urges Labour Party to unite, but offers no olive branch

Corbyn waves after delivering his keynote speech at the party's annual conference in Liverpool, on Sept. 28, 2016.

Photographer: Luke MacGregor/Bloomberg

Jeremy Corbyn largely ignored the biggest question facing Britain as he urged his opposition Labour Party to unite behind him.

In his closing speech to the party’s annual conference in Liverpool, northwest England, it took Corbyn 46 minutes to get to the vote to leave the European Union, and when he got there, he kept it short: Just 278 words of the 5,853-word address were devoted to Brexit.

Instead, he set out a shopping list of policies: a National Education Service to pay for adult learning, to be funded by an increase in taxes on business; 500 billion pounds ($650 billion) of spending on infrastructure; a ban on arms sales to countries that abuse human rights; taking train companies into state ownership. He summed it up as “the socialism of the 21st century.”

Corbyn’s far-left policies have alienated even his own members of Parliament as Labour embarks on a political experiment that could keep Prime Minister Theresa May’s Conservatives in power. Opinion polls show Labour as much as 15 percentage points behind the Tories. In his speech, Corbyn acknowledged the party needs to do more to win the election he said he expected to come next year. 

“Our job is now to win over the unconvinced to our vision,” he said. “And let’s be frank, no one will be convinced of a vision promoted by a divided party. We all agree on that.”

‘Political Stitch-Up’

The challenge remains to find what else he and Labour MPs can agree on. Corbyn offered little in the way of olive branches to his lawmakers, who passed a motion of no confidence in June and mounted a leadership challenge, only to see him comfortably re-elected by party members.

Those who have spoken up in recent days to defend the center-left governments of Tony Blair and Gordon Brown are unlikely to agree with one of his opening passages, which blamed the “so-called free market system” for “calamitous foreign wars without end and a political stitch-up which leaves the vast majority of people shut out of power.”

But the speech went down well with activists in the hall, who rose to cheer and clap all his promises.

‘Sort It Out’

“It was first-class,” said Anna Miller, 41, a silversmith who lives in Chelmsford, east of London. “We need to get the party united: It’ll break us if we don’t, and people are looking to us to get together and put all of our differences behind us and sort it out.”

The extent of the Labour leader’s commitments on Brexit was to pledge to resist attempts to cut workers’ rights, and to fight for access to the EU’s single market.

Although he said the party had to listen to voter concerns about immigration, Corbyn failed to make any commitment to cut it, saying a Labour government would act to stop low pay and the exploitation of migrant labor, reducing the number of migrant workers in the process.

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