Under-pressure Labour leader Jeremy Corbyn insists he voted for the UK to remain in the European Union in the recent referendum and says he will fight to keep hold of the party leadership despite a challenge from Angela Eagle.
Corbyn was asked on Sunday’s The Andrew Marr Show which way he voted in the EU referendum, to which he replied: “Remain. I’m surprised you even asked me that.”
The Labour leader was rumoured to have voted to leave the EU despite campaigning for the “Stronger In” lobby. Corbyn was a vocal critic of the EU prior to gaining the Labour Party leadership last year.
Corbyn told Marr: “I’m not uncritical of the European Union as I think most of the country are not uncritical of the European Union.”
But he insisted he had “worked flat out” for the Remain campaign. Many political commentators and Labour’s own MPs disagree and Corbyn faced mass resignations and a vote of no confidence in the wake of the Brexit victory. MPs and commentators blamed Corbyn for failing to do enough to convince the left to vote to stay in Europe.
Eagle’s leadership challenge: ‘I’m disappointed’
Despite the resignations and loss of the vote of confidence, Corbyn has managed to doggedly stay on as leader of Labour. He now faces a leadership challenge from his former Shadow Business Secretary, Angela Eagle, who announced she would take Corbyn to a ballot yesterday.
On Eagle’s decision, Corbyn told Marr: “I’m disappointed but, obviously, she’s free to do that if she wishes to.”
He added: “I would ask her to think for a moment, this is an opportunity for the party to unite against the Tory Party and present an agenda… This is an opportunity to put enormous pressure on the Tory government.”
Marr asked Corbyn whether he felt he could gain the support of the 51 MPs needed to be on the Labour leadership ballot, to which he replied: “I’m expecting to be on the ballot paper because the rules of the party say the existing leader should be on the ballot if they are challenged.”
Marr then pointed out that Neil Kinnock, Labour leader from 1983 to 1992, was forced to gain MPs’ signatures when he was challenged for the Labour leadership.
Corbyn replied: “The rules in my view are absolutely clear… That was in 1988, the electoral college system has been abolished since then.”
Corbyn said he would mount a challenge to his party if Labour tried to enforce the 51 signature rule, which Kinnock and others have argued should be necessary.
‘Why should I time limit a leadership?’
The Labour leader also defended his right to hang on to his role, saying: “Why should I time limit a leadership when I’ve been elected by a very large number of members and supporters?”
Corbyn was elected as Labour leader on a landslide last year, with close to 60% of the vote. He defended his record as Labour leader, saying: “I think we’re a party that’s going places and is doing very well actually.”
He told Marr: “Pretty well everyone seems to be signing up to the idea that you invest rather than cut to help the economy.”
Corbyn denied reports he is willing to split the Labour Party if MPs do not back him, saying he simply had “an almost philosophical discussion” on the topic.
He also renewed his call to Labour MPs to “get around the table” and re-enter dialogue. He said: “I’m not the one who’s trying to box themselves into a corner. I’ve reached out in the broadest way I could.
“There are very many talented people in the Parliamentary Labour Party and I’m disappointed that some of them have declined offers I’ve made to them.”
Responding to reports that he is struggling with the pressures of leadership, Corbyn insisted: “There are no wobbles, there’s no stress, there’s no depression.” He said that the “real stresses” in the country are those faced by people struggling to feed their children or facing eviction by their landlords, calling on Labour MPs and the press to focus on that story.
The Islington North MP also condemned Labour supporters who have been abusive to his opponents and critics on social media, saying: “I’ve made it very clear that debate should be respectful, debate should be polite, debate should be political.”
And Corbyn said he “probably would” vote in favour of the upcoming motion of contempt for Tony Blair in Parliament over his role in the Iraq war, saying: “Parliament must hold to account, including Tony Blair, those who took the country to war.” The motion follows the publication of the long-awaited Chilcot Report into the war and its causes last Wednesday.
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