As 28 EU member states met to agree a deal on the UK’s demands for reform, the Labour leader said there was no evidence that the proposed emergency brake on in-work benefits would have any effect on reducing immigration to the UK.
He stressed that Labour will campaign to keep Britain in the EU regardless of the outcome of the talks, but argued the brake was “largely irrelevant” to the problems it is supposed to address.
“There is no evidence that it will act as a brake on inward migration,” Corbyn said, as he attended a meeting of fellow European socialists in Brussels, including the French president, François Hollande. “And it won’t put a penny in the pockets of workers in Britain or stop the undercutting of UK wages by the exploitation of migrant workers.”
The Labour leader accused Cameron of embarking on the renegotiations to suit his own party and said he should have fought instead for democratisation, workers’ rights, an end to austerity and a halt to the privatisation of public services.
“The negotiations David Cameron is conducting on Britain’s relationship with the EU are a theatrical sideshow, designed to appease his opponents within the Conservative party,” he said.
In an interview with broadcasters, Corbyn then made clear he also does not agree with Cameron’s proposals to keep regulation of the City of London in the hands of the Bank of England and separate from European supervision of financial services.
“Whether or not the British financial services market should face the same regulation as the rest of Europe or not is actually quite an important issue which he’s not giving a lot of prominence to, but it’s one that he’s concentrating on very hard,” the Labour leader said. “I think we want financial stability and protection all across Europe, therefore there should be the same regulations all across Europe. Surely that is something that is very important?”
In relation to the emergency brake, he highlighted the fact that migrants hit by it would be “people in work who, because their wage levels are so low, merit receipt of working tax credits”.
Asked whether his comments criticising the deal were giving ammunition to eurosceptics who want to see the UK leave the EU, Corbyn said: “I think the reforms that David Cameron and I want are rather different. I want to see improved protection for working conditions, I want to see the continuing right of movement of people across Europe, and I’m very concerned about the secretive negotiations of the Transatlantic Trade and Investment Partnership – which Cameron supports.
“I don’t support those secretive negotiations. I think we want something very different. I want a Europe that is one of social justice, that is one that is working together. I don’t want to see one that is only based on a free market. It has to be based on the rights of people all across Europe. I don’t think David Cameron has that on his agenda.”
Corbyn’s comments are at odds with the cross-party Britain Stronger in Europe campaign to keep the UK in the EU, which supports the prime minister’s renegotiation and praised the “significant proposals which everyone should get behind” when they were announced in early February.
Lord Kinnock, the former Labour leader and EU commissioner, said on Thursday that Cameron’s deal did have value as a clarification of the UK’s relationship with Brussels, and was probably the best the prime minister could possibly have got from other countries.
However, Alan Johnson, the leader of the Labour In for Britain group, which is acting separately from the main campaign, was more in tune with Corbyn when he said earlier this month that the emergency brake was a “sideshow” that will have little effect on immigration.
A shadow cabinet source said Corbyn’s position had been pre-agreed, but there had been some concern among parliamentary colleagues that he was not sending out the right message by failing to back a measure aimed at cutting immigration and also that being too critical of the proposals would help eurosceptics who want to portray Cameron’s efforts as insignificant.
However, others within Labour’s In campaign were relieved that Corbyn is making a strong statement in favour of Britain staying in the EU, given some of his past reservations about the institution.
Pat McFadden, the former shadow Europe minister, who lost his job in Corbyn’s top reshuffle last month, said: “The key point is that Labour’s position is that the party is overwhelmingly in favour of staying in: 214 out of 232 MPs, including Jeremy Corbyn and every member the shadow cabinet have signed up to that.”
A spokesman for Britain Stronger in Europe, the cross-party campaign to keep the UK in the EU, said: “As Jeremy Corbyn and Alan Johnson have been clear, the Labour party will unequivocally be campaigning for Britain to remain in Europe.
“And voices from across the left of British politics are crystal clear about the benefits being in the EU brings to the UK. Frances O’Grady yesterday [Wednesday] emphasised the social rights the EU has protected in this country and the GMB this week announced the support of their 600,000 members for staying in Europe.”
This article was written by Rowena Mason, for theguardian.com on Thursday 18th February 2016 18.00 Europe/Londonguardian.co.uk © Guardian News and Media Limited 2010