Brian Monteith: Brexit likely to suit Jeremy Corbyn's aspirations

The Labour leader has always been ambivalent over Europe so Brexit may suit his future plans, writes Brian Monteith
Labour leader Jeremy Corbyn has been criticised for not taking a more forthright role in the debate over Britains membership of the EU. Picture: Getty ImagesLabour leader Jeremy Corbyn has been criticised for not taking a more forthright role in the debate over Britains membership of the EU. Picture: Getty Images
Labour leader Jeremy Corbyn has been criticised for not taking a more forthright role in the debate over Britains membership of the EU. Picture: Getty Images

Later this week, on Thursday morning, a man of some importance will walk into his allotted polling station. After wrestling with his conscience I believe he will decide that, after all that has come and gone in the last year, he should vote for the UK to leave the European Union.

This particular man has believed in leaving for more than 40 years. Thursday presents him with probably his only chance, in the privacy and confidentiality of the curtained booth, to do what he believes to be right.

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As a young man he voted against UK membership of the Common Market in 1975. Once he became a member of parliament he voted against the Maastricht Treaty and then the Lisbon Treaty too. There are very few issues where this politician has not expressed criticism of the EU.

He has regularly attacked the Common Agricultural Policy for its absurdity, explaining: “It is morally wrong the EU pays farmers to over-produce then uses taxpayers’ money to buy the over-production, to be dumped on African societies. That destroys all the local agriculture. The practice is simply crazy.”

On foreign policy our man despises the effect that the CAP has, saying “The EU sugar regime is not justifiable in any moral or other sense. We are driving cane sugar producers in Africa and elsewhere out of business so that European sugar can be dumped on their markets.”

He is nothing if not consistent in attacking the waste and graft in the EU. On fraud and corruption he has been a stern critic, asking: “What powers do we have to do anything about the fraud in EU institutions? Much of that money seems to find its way into the hands of the Mafia or into grandiose, unwanted and often badly-built construction projects that are of no use to anybody.”

Who could possibly hold such unequivocal views? Who could our mystery voter be? The man in question is Jeremy Corbyn.

Up until he casts his vote he will, of course, be telling his party and anyone who will listen that we should vote to remain, but privately he must be wishing that we vote to leave. In a referendum every vote counts and for him voting to leave makes sense. What he tells people afterwards does not matter, the polling booth will not reveal where he placed his mark.

When elected leader of the Labour Party he had to cut a deal with senior party members so that he could have a broad-based shadow cabinet with the likes of Hilary Benn as shadow foreign secretary. His parliamentary party had a large majority in favour of EU membership, there was nothing else he could do. To have his own policies on the economy he had to forego his opposition to the EU, so his position against EU membership had to be dropped.

Corbyn believes the people should be able to elect a government that can decide what happens in their country. He also fears the EU’s European Central Bank “will undermine any social objective that any Labour government in the United Kingdom – or any other government – would wish to carry out”.

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In the past Corbyn has warned of how the EU makes national governments impotent, saying: “The Treaty on European Union takes away from national parliaments the power to set economic policy and hands it over to an unelected set of bankers.” Leaving the EU would correct that delegation of authority and give a Labour government powers to change course – if that is what the British people voted for.

He wants to be able to nationalise the railways, which the EU will not allow, and wishes to avoid forced privatisation of public services, such as the NHS, through the EU-US Transatlantic Trade and Investment Partnership. If the British people vote to Leave the EU then there will be no TTIP.

Corbyn can see that we are on the cusp of taking this momentous decision. The reason for this is not because of Ukip supporters or Tory voters, for that would not be enough to command a majority. If we do leave on Thursday it will be because as much as 40 per cent of Labour voters, according to polling, but possibly more on the day, have decided leaving the EU is right too.

I regularly hear stories from canvassers in England that anywhere outside London they struggle to find Labour voters that will vote to remain. They feel betrayed on so many issues by the Labour leadership since the Blair years, be it the inability to protect jobs that they have seen melt away, such as in the steelyards, or by the unwillingness to confront the issue of migration.

They are not bigots and can be heard welcoming the contribution that immigrants make to our economy and society – but they also experience the pressures put upon public services and want the numbers to be controlled.

Like Corbyn, they want their politicians to be accountable and to start taking decisions that address their concerns, instead of them saying they cannot do anything because EU rules won’t allow it. In focus groups these voters complain they have seen little difference between Blair and Cameron or Brown, Darling and Osborne, but this referendum gives them the chance to express a view that will send a shock to the heart of the comfortable British establishment.

Corbyn also knows that if we decide to leave there is a real likelihood that the Conservative Party will turn on its leaders, causing the resignation of the prime minister and the chancellor. The Tory party will be bitterly divided and find it very difficult to heal its open wounds before the next general election, even with a new leadership.

The Labour campaign to remain in the EU has been half-hearted at best, and now we can see why. If the UK votes to leave then the deal Jeremy Corbyn cut when elected will have paid off, for his party will be united behind him in challenging the divided Tories.

We shall never know how Jeremy Corbyn votes on Thursday, but practically everything he has ever stood for suggests it will be to leave.

• Brian Monteith is director of Global Britain