It is only to be expected that the new leadership of the Labour party will need a bit of time to flesh out their policies on the main issues facing the country. However the sloppiness of thinking on the issue of the prospective EU referendum is deeply worrying. Corbyn and his inner team will not commit to campaigning for the UK to stay in the EU and this line seems to be based on rather flimsy reasoning.
Corbin himself has stated that he cannot say how he will vote until the Tory government finalises the details of its reformed package. To do otherwise would be to give Cameron a “blank cheque”. A further reason for voting to come out of the EU has been put forward by others in the party, namely that Cameron may succeed in eroding workers rights as part of his deal with the other EU countries.
Both of these approaches seem to be to be not just flimsy, but counter productive. The argument that a possible erosion of workers rights should cause people to leave the EU is simply farcical. In this putative case leaving the EU does nothing, absolutely nothing, to stop this erosion of workers rights. Worse, by leaving the EU completely, it allows our nasty Tory government the space in which to legislate for even greater erosions of workers rights. Leaving the EU will not in itself make a blind bit of difference to the actions of our current Tory government, which let us remember will remain in power till May 2020.
The “blank cheque” argument is superficially more reasoned, but only superficially. Campaigning to leave the EU is a major, major decision and leaving the EU will be a complex process with considerable consequences for the UK and its citizens. To contemplate doing so, simply on the basis of a disagreement over elements of a renegotiation package is just irresponsible. It must be emphasised that whatever Cameron manages to achieve, if anything, only lasts as long as the Tories remain in power. A future Labour government in 2020 could easily and quickly reverse these changes, assuming they have even been brought into force by then.
Given the parliamentary arithmetic, it may not be possible to vote down any package that Cameron succeeds in reaching with the other EU states. So, it may not be possible to stop these changes, including any erosion of workers rights. But they can be overturned after the 2020 election. They can only be overturned after that election. Leaving the EU in the meantime does nothing to alter that and if the only reason for leaving the EU was opposition to these specific changes in workers rights, does that mean that Corbyn and Labour will be campaigning in 2020 to rejoin the EU? It simply does not make sense.
Of course it may be that Corbyn and those publicly contemplating a No vote, actually want to leave the EU. Which is fine, but they should have the courage of their convictions, and come out openly and say why they want the UK to leave the EU and how this move would benefit British workers. The heart of Corbyn’s appeal was that he was not like the other contenders and would not hide behind meaningless spin. So it is time for Corbyn to come clean and stop hiding behind “blank cheques” and come clean and share with all of us what he really thinks about our membership of the EU.