Following Jeremy Corbyn’s comprehensive victory in the Labour leadership election, speculation is rife about his views on the European Union.
I, for one, am optimistic that he will make good on the pledge he made during his election campaign:
Labour should set out its own clear position to influence negotiations, working with our European allies to set out a reform agenda to benefit ordinary Europeans across the continent. We cannot be content with the state of the EU as it stands. But that does not mean walking away, but staying to fight together for a better Europe.
There has also been discussion of Corbyn’s concerns about right-wing attempts to weaken the EU’s social protections. Of course, he is quite right to cry foul at some of the ideas that Cameron has suggested in recent weeks; many others in Labour have done the same, including me! But the fact remains that there is no likely situation in which we would literally be better off out than in. And any negative “reforms” by Cameron — opting out of social rights, for instance — could, should and would be reversed by a Labour government.
Labour’s new deputy leader, Tom Watson, and Corbyn’s shadow foreign secretary, Hilary Benn, have both been reassuringly unequivocal about this. Here’s Hilary on Radio 4 this morning:
Hilary: Jeremy said whatever differences we may have with some aspects of European policy, whatever reforms we want to see, we will stay to fight together for a better Europe. Our policy has not changed.
Q: So why did Chuka Umunna say that he would not rule out campaigning to leave the European Union?
Hilary: You would have to ask Chuka that.
Q: Has he ruled that out? You are absolutely certain that Mr Corbyn has ruled out, under any circumstances, campaigning to leave the European Union?
Hilary: Jeremy has made it very clear that we are going to stay to fight together for a better Europe. We will be campaigning to remain in the European Union.
Q: Under all circumstances?
Hilary: Under all circumstances, because — look at the refugee crisis that we are facing. The truth is, we have got to work in alliance and cooperation with our European allies. And the big choice for Britain will be are we going to be an inward looking, or an outward facing country.
So I’m confident that Corbyn’s appointment of Hilary Benn as shadow foreign secretary, as well as his pronouncements during his campaign, underscore his commitment to a positive agenda of ongoing reform at the heart of the European Union — whatever speculations you might read in the media this morning!