After weeks of hand-wringing by Labour MPs and others that party leader Jeremy Corbyn was not making the case for Britain to remain in the European Union, he insisted on Thursday he was not “half-hearted” in his pro-EU posture.
The referendum has brought together Prime Minister David Cameron, most of the Conservative party and the Labour party on a common platform, but that did not deter Corbyn from scoring points against Cameron in a speech at the University of London.
The speech was delivered as millions of people received a government-sponsored leaflet in the post, reported to cost £ 9 million of taxpayers’ money. It has raised hackles in the Brexit camp, which is now planning a blitz to counter it.
Corbyn said: “The Labour Party is overwhelmingly for staying in because we believe the European Union has brought investment, jobs and protection for workers, consumers and the environment, and offers the best chance of meeting the challenges we face in the 21st century. Labour is convinced that a vote to remain is in the best interests of the people of this country.”
Referring to challenges to Britain’s steel industry with implications for membership of the EU, Corbyn quipped: “Of course, the Conservatives are loyally committed to protecting one British industry in Europe – the tax avoidance industry.
“The most telling revelation about our Prime Minister has not been about his own tax affair, but that in 2013 he personally intervened with the European Commission President to undermine an EU drive to reveal the beneficiaries of offshore trusts, and even now, in the wake of the Panama Papers, he still won’t act.”
London mayor Boris Johnson, one of the leading members of the Brexit camp, is expected to lead the blitz in the run-up to the June 23 referendum to counter the “remain” camp, and insist that Britain is better off outside the 28-state grouping.
The Electoral Commission recognised two rival camps for the referendum: “The In Campaign Ltd” and “Vote Leave Ltd”. Both camps will be allowed specific benefits set out in law during the regulated “referendum period” which begins on April 15.
The benefits include a higher spending limit of £7 million, one free distribution of information to voters, the use of certain public rooms, referendum campaign broadcasts and a grant of up to £600,000.
Critics despair that the “in” camp, which includes the Cameron government, has already spent £ 9 million on the leaflet before the “referendum period” kicks in.