Jeremy Corbyn, opposition leader and head of the Labour party, speaks to Amy Goodman about why he is advocating for Britain to remain in the EU.
We are speaking on the eve of the Brexit vote. For most people in this country [the US], including the presumptive Republican nominee, Donald Trump, people do not know that term, ‘Brexit’, and what it means. Can you talk about why you’re supporting Britain staying in the European Union and what this term ‘Brexit’ means?
Indeed. This Thursday, there’s going to be a special vote taking place across the whole of the country on whether we remain members of the European Union or leave the European Union. And that campaign has become very poisonous. The leaders of the right-wing parts of the leave campaign have been using some terrible imagery. For example, UKIP [UK Independence Party], their leader, Nigel Farage, produced an enormous banner poster, which was a picture of Syrian refugees, actually, I believe, taken in Turkey on the border with – Greece, rather, on the border with Macedonia, and it was just presenting this as though it’s some kind of threat to our way of life. These are desperate people who are fleeing from a war, trying to get to a place of safety. And it’s that kind of appalling imagery which has been part of the whole campaign.
I have been campaigning for a remain vote in the European Union, because I think we have to work with like-minded people across Europe who want to deal with tax havens and tax avoidance, who want a continent that does protect its environment and encourage others to protect its environment, but also one that’s in solidarity with people rather than seeing them all as enemies. The background issues are many, one of which is tax havens and tax avoidance, which I want to be part of the European Union to try and chase them down, close them down, but also the discussions of the Transatlantic Trade and Investment Partnership [TTIP]. I’ve just done a question-and-answer session with a group of young people, and I brought the issue of TTIP into it and drew the parallel with the North Atlantic Free Trade Association, which has been so damaging to working-class interests in the USA and Mexico, and so beneficial to a number of very big corporations. I suspect TTIP will be exactly the same, because it will impose on both sides of the Atlantic the worst aspects of deregulation from both economies. And the opposition to TTIP, I know it’s big in the United States, particularly from the labor movement in the United States. It’s also very big in Europe from trade unions, but also from environmental groups and many other social justice groups. We’re campaigning for a remain vote.
But it’s not an unconditional remain vote. It’s a remain vote in order to try and reform the European Union. At the moment we have some pancontintental working conditions, such as four weeks’ holiday, such as maternity leave and paternity leave, anti discrimination legislation – all of which are very important. I think they should go further, eliminate what’s called zero-hours contracts, which if somebody signs up to work for a company but there’s no guarantee of them getting any pay at all from one week to the other until the employer needs them and then brings them in, maybe they get some good money for a week, and then they get none for a few weeks. It’s a terrible way of doing things. So, there’s a lot of reforms I want to see brought about. But I fear that those that are leading the leave campaign from the right are those that would tear up all those regulations.
You’ve been very critical of the European Union over the years. Your longtime friend Tariq Ali recently said you’re completely opposed to the EU and that you would be campaigning for a vote to leave if you were not the opposition leader, the Labour Party leader in Parliament. Can you respond to what he has to say and talk about the left demand for leaving the European Union?
There is a left position on leaving, which is that you leave the European Union, and you will then be OK on your own, and you can fight for all these things on your own. I understand the position. My problem with it is that half of our economy is very much tied to the European Union. We have, because of the campaigning work of labor movements all over Europe, achieved some quite significant improvements in working conditions across Europe. If we leave, we’re then stuck in a position. Where do we sell goods to? What’s the trading relationship with the European Union likely to be like? And secondly, would we then sign up with the equivalent of TTIP solely between Britain and the USA, with all the damage that that does? I just think there is a strong case on the left to work together with people in Europe. Does it mean I’m uncritical of the European Union? Absolutely not. I’m extremely critical of it, and I’ve made some of those criticisms in a debate I’ve just been doing and will continue to do. But the objectives we are putting forward are improving work conditions across Europe, making sure that we do have the powers to bring our railway system totally into public ownership, and that we oppose the Transatlantic Trade and Investment Partnership.
There are also environmental issues that are very important. The European Union has actually been quite good at improving environmental conditions across Europe – habitat directives which protect natural habitats, as well as giving anybody in the community much more power to force their own councils, local authorities, to recycle goods and behave in a much more environmentally responsible way. You can’t deal with environmental pollution and issues inside national borders, particularly when you’ve got 27 member states of the European Union, another number of states that are not in the European Union, all sharing the same water and sharing the same air. You’ve actually got to work together to improve environmental conditions. But I would also say that in trade, the European Union must be much stronger in enforcing its human rights clauses on its trade agreements and also environmental clauses in trade agreements, so we don’t end up exporting pollution to China, to India or to somewhere else, but we actually move into a much more global approach to reducing levels of pollution for the atmosphere, because, as you well know, if you pour polluted water into the sea, it ends up somewhere else. And so, the Fukushima disaster in Japan does affect the West Coast of the United States. Throwing plastic off the coast of Colombia ends up somewhere the other side of the Pacific. You know, pollution knows no bounds.
Jeremy Corbyn, we’re speaking on World Refugee Day. The UN has just announced that there’s something like 65 million refugees in the world. That’s more than any time in history. You recently told the BBC that there cannot be an upper limit to the number of EU migrants, European Union migrants, who can come into Britain. And you said the focus should be instead on defending the standard of living. Can you elaborate on this?
At the moment, British immigration law is of quite tough restrictions on non-European nationals coming to Britain. Most that come in are either students or… on family reunion or, in some cases, people with very special skills. In Europe, there is a free movement of labour across the continent, which is part and parcel of the single market. There are arguments that many European workers come in and work in Britain and undercut wages here. The reality is actually rather different. There are 48,000 European nationals working in our hospitals and health service. And there are many others working in transport industries and many others. There are also some, particularly Eastern European migrants, who are grotesquely exploited by ruthless employers, who bring them in, pay them the lowest wages they can, in order to undercut the local agreements on wages for particular factories or, indeed, particular industries.
And so I’m campaigning with many others to enforce something called the Posting of Workers Directive, which would stop that degree of undercutting and also stop the practice of some companies bringing in, by advertising only in lower-paid eastern European economies, jobs that are in Britain, which then creates the most appalling tensions in communities; also suggesting that there should be a reintroduction of the migrant impact fund, which was set up by a previous Labour government to give extra support to local authorities where there’s been an arrival of a lot of people, with children and so on, who need school places and need doctors and all the things that we all need. In other words, stop blaming the people that are being exploited. Start pointing the finger of blame at those that are doing the exploiting. Solidarity of working people across national frontiers is surely something that I certainly believe in and I’m sure an awful lot of other people do believe in.
Britain First, the group that Jo Cox’s murderer was a part of… has voiced support for Donald Trump, the Republican presumptive presidential nominee. They voiced support for Trump’s proposed ban on Muslims entering the US. According to The Huffington Post, Britain First told supporters to vote for Trump on Facebook. Here in the United States, David Duke has expressed his support for Donald Trump – the white supremacist Klan leader. Your response?
Britain First is a very right-wing, very racist organisation that is obsessed with what it sees as the Islamicisation of Britain. It is utter nonsense. There are one-and-a-half million people who practice Islam in Britain. There are others who practice Christianity. There are others who practice Judaism. We are a multifaith, multiethnic society. And they are trying to divide people when we should be uniting people. And so, I say to Britain First, your racist rhetoric, the way you behave and the way you conduct yourselves, is making society worse for all of us. Hatred won’t build a house. Hatred won’t recruit a nurse. Hatred won’t educate a child. It’s only people coming together that you defeat that kind of thing. And only people coming together, you gain better conditions, better living standards and better opportunities for all of us.
When I leave here tonight, I’m going to the mosque in my constituency to join in the iftar supper, at sunset later on this evening. And there will be people there with me who are Christians, Hindus, Jews, Buddhists and every other faith you’ve ever thought of. They’re all going to be there celebrating this very special Ramadan, as we celebrate everybody else’s festivals. And it’s a joyous occasion. It brings people together. Surely, that’s the right way forward. And that’s my message to Britain First.
You were propelled into leadership by the same type of people in the United States… who oppose the establishment and establishment politics, that propelled Bernie Sanders forward. Can you leave a message for those who support Bernie Sanders, making a decision right now, what to do if in fact Hillary Clinton is the presumptive nominee?
It’s not up to me to tell people how to vote. What I would say is that I’m very full of admiration for Bernie Sanders and the campaign that he conducted and the millions of people that supported and voted for him. I want to see the anti-austerity movement in Europe, the radical political movement in Europe, which is about a different continent, which is about opposing austerity, such as happened in Italy and Spain and other places, linking up with people on the other side of the Atlantic who are doing exactly the same. There is a wonderful rebirth of radical politics on both sides of the Atlantic. It’s our demands, our pressure, our activity which will change things. And that’s why I am delighted at the progress that’s been made, and I look forward to working with those people and working with the labor movement in the USA. Thanks ever so much for having me this evening.