After finding himself accused of putting forward a half-hearted case for Remain, tonight Jeremy Corbyn had the chance to prove the naysayers wrong in his first — and final — live television debate of the referendum. Yet instead of making a passionate plea for In, Corbyn used the Sky News debate to raise some of his own reservations with the EU.
While Corbyn admitted that he is not a ‘lover of the European Union’, he argued that it is better to stay and fight from within than to leave and be left with greater economic problems. However, it’s his answers dwelling on the EU’s flaws which are most likely to be remembered.
While fielding questions from a studio audience of young voters, Corbyn was asked how he could remain in a union which is in discussions to bring in ‘inequality’ policies like the Transatlantic Trade and Investment Partnership. Corbyn responded by expressing his own concerns with TTIP. ‘I think there’s every chance it will never see the light of day,’ he replied. ‘I think the EU is wholly wrong in doing this negotiation.’ Given that Britain Stronger in Europe has cited the EU US trade deal as one of the reasons to stay In, it was a confusing message for voters. As Sky’s Faisal Islam put it: ‘this is not coherent with the Remain campaign’.
Corbyn was also critical of the EU’s response to the refugee crisis, the way the EU protects tax havens as well as loopholes in EU law which benefit employers rather than employees. He reassured voters that in the case of Brexit, the UK would still be legally obliged to look after refugees — ‘we don’t have a problem with EU law’ — before agreeing with an audience member that the treatment of refugees in the EU has been ‘appalling’. As for immigration, he reinforced his comments on Marr that he didn’t think it would be possible to have an upper limit on immigration. Although this appeared to play out okay with the audience of liberal young voters, those watching from home are less likely to be reassured.
In fact at times it seemed as though Corbyn was there to make the case for Out. Perhaps that was what was crossing one voter’s mind when they asked Corbyn if he would shoulder the blame if Leave triumph on Thursday. His reply? ‘I’m not going to take the blame for the decision.’ While the Labour leader may be adamant that a vote for Brexit won’t be on him, tonight’s performance will only fuel concerns in his own party that he has not done enough to put forward the left-wing case for Remain. Should Britain vote to Leave, Corbyn ought to expect some of the blame to be placed in his direction — whether he likes it or not.