Verdict

Jeremy Corbyn is steering Labour towards a soft Brexit — here’s how that fits with his voting record

The UK’s Labour party leader Jeremy Corbyn last week laid out his party’s plan for the UK exit from the European Union.

In the speech at Coventry University, Corbyn said the UK should stay in a permanent customs union with the EU. This would simplify the hard border issue with Northern Ireland as well as helping the flow of free trade.

Corbyn said:

Labour would seek a final deal that gives full access to European markets and maintains the benefits of the single market and the customs union.

We have long argued that a customs union is a viable option for the final deal.

So Labour would seek to negotiate a new comprehensive UK-EU customs union to ensure that there are no tariffs with Europe and to help avoid any need for a hard border in Northern Ireland.

This has been seen as a Labour policy shift on Brexit, designed to tempt Tory voters dissatisfied with prime minister Theresa May’s plans for the country to leave both the EU’s single market and its customs union.

Corbyn’s position on Brexit has been the source of much speculation. In the run up to the referendum he was accused of not doing enough to campaign for remain.

Verdict has taken a look back over Corbyn’s voting and parliamentary speech record on the EU.

Corbyn’s voting record on the EU

Website the Public Whip has calculated that Corbyn voted for the EU 56.4% of the time between 2006 and 2018, based on its weighted formula.

The only parliamentary vote related to the EU not included on the Public Whip’s catalogue is the 1993 vote on the Maastricht Treaty which Corbyn opposed.

Corbyn opposed Maastricht on the basis it gave more power to unelected EU bodies, such as the European Commission, which he sees as unaccountable to either the EU parliament or the UK national parliament.

He said in the parliamentary debate prior to the vote:

If my Honorable Friend is now envisaging the establishment of a federal Europe, will he not reflect that the Maastricht treaty does not take us in the direction of the checks and balances contained in the American federal constitution?

It takes us in the opposite direction of an unelected legislative body — the Commission — and, in the case of foreign policy, a policy Commission that will be, in effect, imposing foreign policy on nation states that have fought for their own democratic accountability.

Under the Maastricht treaty, with a common foreign and defence policy, that accountability will not exist. It will not exist in the European Parliament, which can question but not call to account. It will not exist here, because we shall always be told that policy is being made somewhere else.

Even with the inclusion of Corbyn’s vote against the Maastricht Treaty, the Labour Leader still voted in favour of the EU more than he voted against it.

It is commonly reported that Corbyn opposed the Lisbon Treaty in 2008.

The Lisbon Treaty is an international agreement signed by EU member states that reformed the functioning of the supranational organisation after two waves of enlargement that increased the number of member states by 12 to 27.

The main changes from the Constitutional Treaty, which the Lisbon Treaty amended, was increasing the consistency and coherence of the EU’s external actions.

Corbyn voted against the second reading of the Lisbon Treaty in 2008. This means he voted against the Lisbon Treaty progressing to the next stage of the legislative process.

However, after the Lisbon Treaty passed through to the second reading phase, Corbyn did support many elements of the Treaty.

For example, he voted against increasing the number of days allocated for the debate which would have delayed the passing of the bill and against amendments that disapproved of the energy, climate change and international development policy elements and single market proposal of the Treaty.

Notably the Islington North MP voted against the amendment criticising the human rights policy elements of the Treaty and no to excluding human rights from the policy remit of the EU.

This is interesting since human rights is an area where Corbyn has particularly criticised the EU.

He has expressed this in many parliamentary debates since becoming an MP in 1983.

In June 1985 he said:

I asked that migrant people working in Europe be given political rights similar to those given to people already resident in Europe.

I said that migrant workers should not be discriminated against continuously and systematically or be ignored by all the European institutions.

During a debate about the European Council meeting in 2007, Corbyn said:

The Prime Minister mentioned that there had been discussions about relations with Turkey during the Council meeting.

What concerns were expressed about the rights of Kurdish people in south-east Turkey, the growing militarisation of that part of the country and the incursions by Turkish forces into Iraq at present?

What meetings are being sought with the Turkish Government to try to reduce tensions and bring about peace and cultural respect in that area?

However, Corbyn has at other times praised the EU and its ability to protect human rights, which is another illustration of his inconsistency with regard to the EU.

He said in a 2011 debate on the European Court of Human Rights:

Does the Attorney-General agree that the European Court of Human Rights and the European convention on human rights are very important safeguards of the rights and liberties of people all over the Council of Europe area, and that any diminution of British participation or support, or acceptance of the Court’s rulings, would be damaging to the human rights of people in this country and would, of course, diminish the value of the Court, which is one of the great achievements of post-war Europe?

In 2012, he declared during a parliamentary debate on EU Justice and Home Affairs Directives:

Does the right Honorable Gentleman not recognise that the European convention on human rights, the European Court of Human Rights and all the advantages that have been given to people who would otherwise be denied human rights across Europe are very important.

Corbyn did reject some other elements of the Lisbon Treaty.

He voted against the implementation of qualified majority voting, rather than the continuation of unanimity in decision-making, in certain areas meaning the EU could make a decision in those policy areas which would affect the UK even if the British government objected.

He voted against expanding the power of EU Institutions at the expense of member states’ national institutions and for allowing a referendum on the UK’s membership of the EU.

Crucially, Corbyn voted against a third reading of the Lisbon Treaty. The third reading is when all the amendments of a Bill are approved in the House of Commons before it moves onto discussion in the House of Lords.

Corbyn’s standpoint nf the Lisbon Treaty cannot be categorised as purely rejection or purely acceptance; it is more thorny than that simple diametric.

It has been reported that Corbyn had a “change of heart” towards the EU after he became Labour Leader in September 2015.

The Economist said “Corbyn seems only recently to have converted to the case for British EU membership”.

However, like his position on the Lisbon Treaty, Corbyn’s general voting record in relation to the EU before 2015 is more inconsistent and complicated with regard to the EU than this argument would suggest.

In support of the EU, he voted against allowing the UK to be exempt from implementing any economic governance sanctions proposed by the EU in 2010.

He voted for Britain’s continuing participation in the European Arrest Warrant in 2012 and for the re-joining of 35 EU Justice and Home Affairs Measures that would mean the UK was engaging in closer cooperation with the EU over criminal matters.

In 2011, Corbyn voted that the government should contribute to the European Stability Mechanism.

However, he also voted against creating the European Stability Mechanism. This is a perfect example of Corbyn’s incoherent voting with regard to the EU.

Other examples of the Islington North MP’s opposition to the EU are his vote against the European Action External Action Service which would have allowed the President of the European Council being appointed for a renewable term of two and a half years and against the submission of the UK’s medium-term economic and budgetary position for to the European Commission.