Labour leader Jeremy Corbyn ducked the question of whether he supports remaining in the EU four times today when questioned by the BBC’s Andrew Marr.
He repeatedly dodged the question of what his personal preference was, sticking to the line that a Labour government would rapidly negotiate a new Brexit deal with the EU and put it to a referendum alongside Remain.
And he also suggested that his negotiating team would include pro-Brexit voices as “it’s very important that all parts of the country are represented and that’s what I would seek to do”.
Asked by Marr if he supported remaining in the EU, Corbyn, a long-time opponent of the bloc, said: “We’re gonna put that choice to the British people and they will make that decision. We’ll negotiate within three months a credible, sensible option of Leave and put that alongside Remain in a referendum.”
Pushed whether he personally wanted to leave the EU or not, the Labour leader insisted: “I want a close relationship with the EU in the future and we will put that decision to the British people and I will abide by that decision, that’s the position we’ve come to in the Labour Party.”
Pushing a third time, Marr said Corbyn’s answer implied that “close relationship” meant Britain being outside the EU. Corbyn reponded: “A Leave option would mean a trade relationship with Europe and it would mean a protection of rights and obviously includes protection of the Good Friday Agreement, that would be put alongside Remain in a referendum within six… and my whole strategy has been to try to bring people together on both sides of the argument, ’cause actually there’s a great deal that unites us about the inequalities and injustices in this country.”
Marr said that Brexit was the “biggest single question facing people in this country”, to which an increasingly tetchy Corbyn retorted it was only “one of the biggest questions facing people in this country”.
He said: “The answer is, as I’ve explained to you, that we will negotiate a credible option, put that alongside Remain and the British people will make their mind up on that basis and we will discuss this obviously when we’ve concluded those initial negotiations which will start immediately we take office.
“Jeremy Corbyn can say this: that we have to have a close trading relationship with Europe, we won’t crash out into the arms of Donald Trump, we won’t be doing sweetheart trade deals with the USA and we won’t be wrecking our National Health Service in the process as the prime minister is planning to do.”
Marr said that it would be difficult for Corbyn to credibly negotiate a Brexit deal with the European Commission when four of his leading shadow ministers – John McDonnell, Diane Abbott, Emily Thornberry and Sir Keir Starmer – have publicly said they would campaign to Remain in any second referendum.
Corbyn snapped: “Well, you don’t know who I’m going to take with me into those negotiations
“I’m saying this is obviously going to be a team of people who would be involved in this, and they would be representative of all parts of the UK and areas that have different views on it.
“When we had talks with the UK government over the summer we did have a very wide range of voices meeting the government on this and I think it’s very important that all parts of the country are represented and that’s what I would seek to do.”
Asked whether this meant he would be included “pro-Brexit voices” in his EU negotiating team, Corbyn said: “They’ll all be Labour voices that fought the election on the basis of the agreement we hope to reach with the European Union which we put to the people of this country, ’cause I do think we’ve got to settle this and we settle it by a relationship with Europe either in or out.
“What [EU negotiators] would know, and they already know ’cause I’ve met all the senior negotiators in the European Union, already, several times over the past couple or three years, that we represent a country where a majority to leave, a very substantial minority voted to remain and that those voices have got to be heard at the negotiating table.
“But, however people voted in the referendum, they didn’t vote to lose their jobs, they didn’t vote for a deregulated society. My point is that all the government, the prime minister, is offering is actually a deal with the United States which would do immense damage to the National Health Service and indeed other services as well.
“Listen: we haven’t had the election yet and we haven’t had the negotiations yet. I want to make sure there’s a credible offer of Leave with arrangements with the European Union or Remain and a future relationship with Europe and I think it’s only right that if we fight the election on a manifesto that includes options which is a way of bringing people together, which seems to me an adult approach to the whole thing.”