In an interview with the Guardian, the Labour leader insisted that the prime minister could not be allowed to use the royal prerogative to bypass the Commons over the UK’s future relationship with continental Europe.
Earlier this month, May repeatedly refused to commit to a parliamentary vote during a select committee hearing – prompting Corbyn to conjure up an image of the prime minister acting as if she was an overbearing Tudor.
“It [a final Brexit deal] would have to come to parliament. She cannot hide behind Henry VIII and the divine rights of the power of kings on this one,” he said, pointing out that MEPs in the European parliament would have a vote on the proposed settlement.
“The idea that on something as major as this the prime minister would use the royal prerogative to bypass parliament is extraordinary – I don’t know where she’s coming from.”
The comments, which refer to whatever deal is agreed at the end of the Brexit negotiating process in 2019 rather than the trigger of article 50 next year, came during a wide-ranging interview. Corbyn also:
- Launched a vehement defence of the benefits of European migration into Britain, saying workers contributed “massively” to the NHS, education, manufacturing, agriculture and care work.
- Said the answer to fears over immigration was to crack down on exploitative work practices, and that he was sceptical about government plans for a work visa system.
- Was bullish about the prospect of another leadership challenge from Labour MPs concerned about the party’s poor performance in the polls, saying: “I am always ready for a summer of campaigning.”
- And suggested that Labour’s previous leader, Tony Blair, would not be making any comeback to the parliamentary party under his watch.
But asked if he would be happy with another constituency amid rumours that Blair was considering a comeback, Corbyn said: “I think the nuanced differences of opinion between me and Tony Blair are quite well known … I don’t see Tony Blair and I working together. I don’t think he does either.”
His frank language about both the prime minister and Blair come as Labour strategists seek to ramp up Corbyn’s image as a leftwing populist who is prepared to rail against establishment figures.
They believe that while the Labour leader is already seen in that way by part of the population, there are too many voters who may consider the Islington MP to be part of the establishment.
Corbyn is expected to appear more frequently on television, as an expanded team of advisers work up policies aimed at underlining a willingness to lead a revolt against vested interests.
Despite pressure from Labour MPs, including Manchester mayoral hopeful Andy Burnham, to take a tougher line on free movement, Corbyn did not list immigration among his post-Brexit priorities. Instead, he spelled out a desire to protect “market access” as well as maintaining human rights and opposing racism.
Arguing that Britain could not be a “bargain basement economy” on the edge of Europe, he also claimed that there was a “level of exaggeration” about any negative impacts of migration on British society.
Corbyn said: “We should recognise that European workers in Britain do contribute massively to the health service, education, manufacturing industry, care work, agricultural sector. We’d be in quite a difficult place if they all went.
“We have to recognise that people do move around the continent, do move to work, do move to pay taxes and to benefit the economy that they come into. They don’t have unfettered access to benefits the day they arrive in Britain, they don’t have unfettered access to housing the day they arrive.”
Corbyn said he wanted people to “think for a moment: who treats them when they go to the doctors, who treats them when they go to hospital, who is doing the technical work often in many places, and you’ll find the same with British people all over the world.”
Corbyn argued that companies such as Airbus, Nissan and Hitachi needed to be free to move skilled workers around Europe and would leave Britain if Brexit meant higher tariffs to access the single market.
He also hinted that he believed continued free movement would be necessary to secure Labour’s priority of economic access, claiming that a work visa scheme would be “fraught with difficulties” because of the high level of integration with Europe. He also cast doubts on whether Labour would support a system in which people could only come if they had a job.
“Well then, that will work in reverse for British people going abroad, which would be difficult to implement and maybe is counter to the principles of the European market.”
However, he did set out plans for a policy – which he is expected to stress much more frequently in 2017 – which could result in migration numbers falling. “What we need to address is exploitation, undercutting and the way in which companies are trying to destroy industrial agreements by ignoring what they should be doing, which is paying people properly and not bringing people in to undercut,” said Corbyn.
The Labour leader said he was building alliances with socialist parties in other countries because the final Brexit deal hammered out over two years after article 50 is triggered will be put to the European parliament.
“Presumably all national parliaments will want a say as well, so our relations with socialist groups in every national parliament could be important,” said Corbyn, before insisting that British MPs also had to be given a vote on the deal.
It is not clear whether the government is prepared to offer that or not. The Brexit secretary, David Davis, has hinted that MPs could be given a vote, but May was unwilling to offer that commitment when she appeared in front of the liaison committee last week.
Corbyn also urged all members of the leftwing campaigning group Momentum to join the Labour party. He also encouraged the hundreds of thousands of people who joined Labour to back him to get more involved in campaigning, amid claims from MPs that new members were failing to turn out.
He said he wanted all MPs to move on from the summer’s leadership contest and insisted that the party was in a strong position despite some dire recent poll ratings. Corbyn said he hoped to gain seats in May’s local elections and claimed the media was ignoring Labour’s successes.
“I can’t pretend the two byelection results were good,” he said about results in Richmond Park in London and Sleaford, Lincolnshire. “But on the same day we gained a ward in Telford … with a 20% increase in vote, and overall majority on council. We’ve never won that ward ever – no media reported that. We held a ward in Lancaster.” He added: “Results vary; I want to do better.”
Corbyn dismissed reports that he has told friends he is ready to step down in 2019 because of his age, saying: “Friends is obviously a very loose term these days – I’ve never said that. I’m very happy doing my campaigning. This is the age of the 60s – look at Trump, Clinton, Sanders, Angela Merkel – look around you. Sixties is the new 40s, I keep fit.”
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