Labour said in its manifesto for the general election in May that there should be a two-year ban on EU migrants receiving tax credits. The policy had been set out by the then shadow work and pensions secretary Rachel Reeves.
But Corbyn, who is in Brussels for a meeting of the Party of European Socialists – a grouping of leftwing parties in the European parliament – rejected the policy. He said on Thursday: “If somebody is working, paying taxes, doing a job just like anybody else, then surely they deserve access to exactly the same benefits as anybody else.”
His remarks came as the shadow home secretary, Andy Burnham, also addressed policy towards the EU and welfare. “David Cameron’s botched renegotiation on EU free movement has left Britain isolated and risks weakening the pro-European cause at a crucial moment,” he said.
“Cameron should seek fair rules on benefits that reflect the contributory principle, stop the undercutting of wages and protect the ‘going rate’ paid to skilled workers, and secure extra support, directly from the EU, for public services in the areas most affected by rapid change.
“Free movement benefits our economy and the government should be saying that loud and clear. But there needs to be much greater recognition of the fact that it has a differential impact in different parts of the country. In former industrial areas, it has held down wages and put pressure on public services. We need fairer rules to make free movement work for everyone.
“I know from discussions I’ve had with senior figures in Brussels that there’s a sensible deal to be done … The sooner that David Cameron gets that deal done, the quicker we can all get on with making the positive case for Britain staying in the EU.”
There has been concern among some pro-Europeans in Labour circles that Corbyn, an instinctive sceptic about the free market principles of the EU, will set up an alternative set of negotiating demands, so clouding Labour’s decision to support Britain’s membership. There were suggestions earlier this week that some of the MPs most closely associated with his leadership were willing to come out in support of the campaign to leave the EU.
There has been further discussion in the shadow cabinet about whether the party should review its position backing EU membership, but there was no great support.
Speaking in Brussels, Corbyn said Cameron had botched the negotiations. “They have called David Cameron’s bluff, and he knows it,” he said.
“Labour backs Britain’s continued membership of the EU as the best framework for trade and cooperation in a 21st-century Europe. And we will campaign for Britain to stay when the referendum is finally held.
“But people across Britain and Europe know that the EU needs to change if it’s going to work better for the majority of its people, not just its banks and corporations.
“Cameron’s timid and lopsided demands, choreographed for the cameras, won’t achieve that.”
He said Labour will be pressing for “democratic reform to make EU decision making accountable to its people, economic reform to put jobs and sustainable growth at the centre of European policy, labour market reform to strengthen workers’ rights in a real social Europe and new rights for elected authorities across Europe to support public enterprise and halt the pressure to privatise services”.
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