Jeremy Corbyn grilled by Labour MPs ahead of make-or-break by-elections

LONDON — Jeremy Corbyn on Monday faced a barrage of questions from Labour MPs concerned about the party’s positions on immigration, nuclear power and Nato, as it readies itself for two tough parliamentary by-elections against the Tories.

The Labour leader told the weekly private meeting of the parliamentary Labour party that he was “confident” the party would triumph in the Copeland and Stoke-on-Trent by-elections.

However, MPs told Corbyn that Labour’s “mixed messages” over immigration could cost them. The Labour leader last week said the party are no longer “wedded” to the concept of freedom of movement, before performing a series of U-turns on the issue.

Corbyn was also asked to clarify whether the party supports new nuclear power. The issue is seen as crucial to the result of the upcoming Copeland by-election where there are plans to build a new nuclear power plant at Moorside. The Tories have been plastering the constituency, which is host to the Sellafield plant, with leaflets quoting comments by Corbyn in which he called for the decommissioning of all nuclear power stations nationwide. The Labour leader told his MPs that the party would now support new nuclear stations “as part of the energy mix”.

Corbyn visited Copeland last weekend but was not seen in public, leading to accusations from the Conservatives that he is viewed as “toxic” by Labour’s campaign. A spokesperson for the Labour leader last night described these claims as “nonsense” and insisted that he had merely been visiting as part of a “listening exercise” and would return again this upcoming weekend.

Corbyn also faced questions from Labour MP Wes Streeting about his commitment to Nato, following reported comments by Corbyn’s spokesperson which suggested the party would support withdrawing Nato troops from Estonia.

Shadow Defence Secretary and Corbyn ally, Nia Griffith was said to be “livid” about the comments. However Corbyn last night said that his spokesperson had been misreported and insisted there was no disagreement between himself and Griffith about the issue.

A “not especially inspiring” performance

A spokesperson for the Labour leader described the meeting as “very calm and friendly.”Having covered a number of these in the past, there were certainly nothing like the fireworks seen in the run-up to last year’s leadership election. At one such meeting, a Labour MP and a member of Corbyn’s team almost came to blows in Parliament’s committee corridor outside. Corbyn’s emphatic victory in his second leadership election appears to have taken the sting out of these occasions.

Nevertheless, Labour MPs Business Insider spoke to last night seemed less than impressed with Corbyn’s performance. One senior MP who attended the meeting described it as “not especially inspiring but no worse than usual”.

Other MPs leaving the meeting described it, sarcastically, as “riveting” with one adding that “I’m sure it was much more interesting out here than it was in there.”

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