has finally ended uncertainty over Labour’s position on Europe, declaring that the party would campaign for the UK to stay in the EU in the forthcoming referendum.
In a joint statement with the shadow foreign secretary, Hilary Benn, Corbyn said Labour would make the case for , whatever the outcome of the renegotiation being sought by David Cameron.
“Labour will be campaigning in the referendum for the UK to stay in the European Union,” the statement says. “We will make the case that membership of the helps Britain to create jobs, secure growth, encourage investment and tackle the issues that cross borders – like climate change, terrorism, tax havens and the current refugee crisis.”
The Labour leader and Benn said that should Cameron’s renegotiation with other EU leaders result in a poorer deal for British workers – such as an erosion of employment rights – would pledge to reverse the changes if it were elected.
“We will, of course, oppose any attempt by the Tory government to undermine workers’ rights,” the statement says. “But Labour is clear that the answer to any damaging changes that David Cameron brings back from his renegotiation is not to but to pledge to reverse any changes by campaigning to stay in and get a Labour government elected in 2020.”
On Monday, Benn told BBC Radio 4’s Today programme that Corbyn would fight to stay in the EU “under all circumstances”. But Corbyn later told a meeting of Labour MPs that the party “can’t just give Cameron a blank cheque”, appearing to leave the door open for Labour to campaign for Britain to leave the EU.
Corbyn pressed home the reassurance .
The shadow Europe minister, Pat McFadden, also met Corbyn to tell him he would only serve if there was an unambiguous commitment to campaign to stay in the , which is due by the end of 2017.
McFadden, a strong pro-European, agreed to remain as shadow Europe minister after two rounds of talks with Corbyn on Thursday about the extent of Labour’s commitment to .
He believes he has a clear undertaking from Corbyn that Labour will campaign to stay in the EU even if Cameron were to dilute workers’ rights, and that the party would campaign from within the EU to have those rights restored.
McFadden stressed he did not believe Cameron was seeking to undermine those rights in his talks with his EU partners, but recognises that Corbyn is deeply concerned at what he regards is a shift from a social Europe to a free-market Europe.
He said: “If the prime minister tries to water down hard won employment protections that would be wrong and foolhardy on his part and we would very strongly oppose it. But if he does try to water down these protections, the right response is not to leave the EU but to fight the 2020 election on a clear commitment to restore those employment rights – and we have to remain in the EU to do that.”
Corbyn and Benn’s definitive statement looks like a victory for the pro-European faction in the party.
In a Q&A letter to Labour MPs, the pair asked: “So will Labour be campaigning to stay in regardless of the outcome of the government’s renegotiation?”
The answer was: “Yes. We believe that Britain is better off staying in Europe, and any unacceptable changes the government makes as part of its renegotiation, we will commit to reverse when we have the opportunity by campaigning for change within the EU.”
The Q&A does suggest Labour MPs will not be obliged to follow the official line during the referendum campaign, stating “Labour will not ‘whip’ any of its MPs in the referendum. We recognise that there is a diversity of opinion on Britain’s membership in the country and within the PLP [parliamentary Labour party] and individuals will be free to campaign as they wish.”
But the party as a whole will be campaigning for the UK to remain in the EU because of the benefits it brings in terms of jobs, investment, growth, security and influence in the world.
The changes Labour would like to see include “protection of the NHS from EU competition law, reform of the state-aid rule, the introduction of a red-card system [which means that if sufficient member state parliaments object to a commission proposal then it doesn’t go ahead], reform of the EU budget, increased flexibility on transitional controls, and protection of workers’ rights”.
But it adds “the only way to get these changes is to be positive Europeans and work with our EU partners to ensure that Europe adapts to a changing world”.
Pro-Europeans were delighted by the statement, which they said showed that Corbyn had blinked and Benn had showed spine. Alan Johnson, the head of the Labour yes campaign, was not involved in brokering the deal since he thought Corbyn would have to clarify his position.
Although many Labour MPs know that Corbyn is sceptical about the free-market direction of the EU, they did not believe he had thought through his policy, allowing the issue to drift for days.
Corbyn also announced on Thursday that he has appointed Kevin Slocombe, the communications director of the Communication Workers Union, to head his media operation.