Jeremy Corbyn has said Britain “cannot and must not close the borders” to workers from the European Union, as he delivered his strongest argument yet for Britain to vote remain in the referendum.
Giving a speech to an enthusiastic crowd of Labour members in Westminster, the party leader acknowledged that some voters had understandable concerns about the impact of immigration, but he blamed the government for cutting public services and failing to protect workers from exploitation.
“Some communities can change dramatically and rapidly, and that can be disconcerting for some people, but that doesn’t make them little Englanders, xenophobes or racists,” he said. “More people living in an area can put real pressure on local services like doctors and schools. That is not the fault of migrants, it’s the failure of government.”
He blamed unscrupulous employers and government spending cuts for the impact of immigration on the public. “It’s not migrants that undercut wages, but unscrupulous employers that do so. Migrant workers are often the victims of some of the worst exploitation,” he said.
He called for the government to re-establish the migrant impact fund, which helps local authorities to cope with the costs of immigration, and to close a loophole in the EU’s posted workers’ directive, which he said allowed firms to bring in staff from other EU states and pay them below the going rate. “We cannot and should not want to close the borders,” he said.
The Labour leader also sent a clear signal that he had no intention of abandoning party hostilities to fight for Britain to remain in the EU, describing some of the dire warnings from the Stronger In campaign about the economic consequences of leaving the EU as “hype and histrionic claims”.
The former Labour chancellor Alistair Darling and the former shadow chancellor Ed Balls have both made appeals to the electorate jointly with George Osborne, who is playing a key role in masterminding the Stronger In campaign.
But Corbyn attacked the chancellor, saying: “Just over a week ago George Osborne claimed that the UK would enter a year-long recession if we vote to leave the EU. This is the same George Osborne who predicted his austerity policies would close the deficit by 2015.”
He added: “The biggest risk of a recession in this country is from the Conservative government.”
Corbyn, who was repeatedly interrupted by applause throughout his speech, set Labour firmly against the Transatlantic Trade and Investment Partnership (TTIP), a trade deal between the EU and the US that some campaigners fear could extend the power of global corporations.
He also laid out a series of areas where the EU had brought improvements for Britain, from setting standards for cleaner beaches to protecting workers’ rights.
He argued that the leaders of Vote Leave would sacrifice those rights if Britain left the EU, saying: “A Tory Brexit negotiation would be a disaster for many working people in Britain.”
The Labour leader, who has been a Eurosceptic for much of his parliamentary career, also stressed that he would like to see the EU reformed to become more of a “social Europe”.
“We believe that Europe can and must do far more to meet the needs of our people. That’s why we make the case for remain. We also make the Labour case for reform,” he said, calling for a Europe of “cooperation and solidarity”.
This article was written by Heather Stewart Political editor, for theguardian.com on Thursday 2nd June 2016 12.53 Europe/Londonguardian.co.uk © Guardian News and Media Limited 2010