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14 April 2016

Jeremy Corbyn’s speech swept away any doubts about his commitment to EU membership

Jeremy agrees with his MEPs and the wider party that the winning case for Britain to vote to remain in the European Union isn't based on defending Europe as it is today but making the case for change from within. 

By Richard Howitt

The media has been itching away at the Labour Party constantly and the EU Leave campaign goading us over many months, at Jeremy Corbyn’s supposed half-heartenedness in putting the ‘Labour In For Britain’ case for the EU referendum campaign.

I have to say that always contrasted with the times I have seen Jeremy speak directly on the subject, including twice in Brussels, in recent months.On each of these occasions, he’s made an unapologetic ‘Social Europe’ case to sustain our European Union membership to defend environmental protection, worker and other human rights.

The Labour leader laid out that case again today.

But in a speech which had been subject to frenzied media speculation and deliberate hype from our opponents, he finally laid to rest the ghost about any reservation towards the Labour In campaign. He attributed it to the overwhelming support amongst our party members, MPs, the trade unions and non-governmental organisations, with whom he’s engaged on the issue. He also joked that he’d sought a change of direction in the Labour Party too, whilst never contemplating leaving it.

Indeed, what is likely to convince sceptics to the Labour cause, whether in the media or wider electorate, was the relaxed, confident and good humoured tone he adopted throughout. Jeremy neatly swept away two questions suggesting reticence in his personal commitment to the campaign, by talking about the “numerous speeches” in which he has put the case, including twice with fellow socialist leaders at Party of European Socialist meetings.In its introductory passage, Jeremy’s speech proudly quoted the Portuguese socialist Prime Minister Alberto Costa saying: “We must not divide Europe – we must strengthen it.”

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Jeremy’s case firmly rooted membership of the European Union to our party’s internationalism, and in an internationalist response to the challenges of globalisation.

Indeed, forgive me if I take a little personal pride in the strong support given in the speech to the work of Labour MEPs .Whether in our opposition to the undemocratic proposal for investor dispute in the EU-US ‘TTIP’ trade talks or in our work to protect the right to renationalise Britain’s railways in forthcoming EU legislation, the Labour leader gave political credit to the party’s representatives in the European Parliament which has not always been apparent from some of his predecessors.

Furthermore, Jeremy quoted information he’d also used at Prime Minister’s Questions on the scandalous opposition from Conservative MEPs to European action against tax dodging, on no less than six occasions in the past year.

I am sure that some critics will still want to seize on some of Jeremy’s critique of the European Union, to try to continue the deceit that he is some sort of secret sympathiser to the EU leave cause – despite his repeated protestations otherwise. But Jeremy shares the analysis of his MEPs and the wider party, that the winning case for Britain to vote to remain in the European Union isn’t based on defending Europe as it is today, but making the case for change from within for the future.

The longest lasting influence emanating from today’s speech has been the Labour leader sending the clearest possible message to Labour supporters to vote to remain in the EU.

Jeemy would argue that there was never any doubt about his commitment, but today means any doubters have no excuse to support their case.

There is also no doubt that Jeremy Corbyn’s election to the Labour leadership has marked a radical change of direction in British politics, the full consequences of which are still not fully understood. Jeremy has energised a new generation to support the Labour Party, drawn from outside the party and in some cases entirely new to politics. Many commentators have suggested that winning the EU referendum is dependent on enthusing that same new generation of Labour Party supporters to the pro-EU cause.

That has been the achievement of Jeremy Corbyn’s speech today. You might even say it has given new “Momentum” to the EU referendum campaign. There will be Conservatives today who will be uncomfortable with this message. But our job was never to cosy up to the Conservatives, pro- or anti-British membership of the European Union.

Tonight, Labour supporters should be very happy that our party leader has given the leadership our party wants and needs, towards securing victory in the EU referendum campaign.