Labour Leader Jeremy Corbyn Rejects Calls To Stand Down

Jeremy Corbyn
Labour Party leader Jeremy Corbyn in London, Britain June 22, 2016. Corbyn has rejected calls for his resignation. Stefan Wermuth/Reuters

Britain's opposition Labour Party leader Jeremy Corbyn has rejected calls for him to stand down, saying the party needed to begin fighting for its priorities to be protected in the U.K.'s EU exit negotiations.

And at a speech in London on Saturday, Corbyn said that Labour needed to rethink its immigration policy following the decision of the British public to vote for a "Brexit" in the country's EU membership referendum.

On Friday, two Labour MPs submitted a motion of no confidence in Corbyn. Labour MPs will discuss the motion at a meeting on Monday. But asked on Saturday about whether he would run in any leadership contest that resulted, he said simply, "Yes, I'm here," to cheers and thunderous applause from party members in the audience.

Corbyn cited an online petition signed by more than 140,000 people supporting his leadership. The signatories, he said, did not want the party to waste time "debating the future of the party," but instead to press on with demanding protections for workers and the environment be included in the terms of any future relationship between Britain and the EU.

In his speech, Corbyn said: "It is clear the vote on Thursday and from people across Britain there has been a backlash against the free movement of people" across the EU, and said the party was considering how it should best respond.

But, he insisted, "We must never pander to prejudice in the debate that we're doing." He declined to commit to backing restrictions on freedom of movement when pressed on this point by reporters.

The vote to leave the European Union had been partly driven by the disenfranchisement of working-class people in post-industrial areas, Corbyn said. "Across many parts of Britain there's a feeling of powerlessness," he said. "Communities that have been abandoned; abandoned from the mining industry's destruction onwards."

He said many in those areas had only insecure and poorly paid employment opportunities. "A Sports Direct factory on the site of a former mine says it all about the employment strategy of modern Britain," he said.

In such places, Corbyn said, immigration sometimes placed pressure on "underfunded" public services. Corbyn reiterated his call for the reinstatement of the Migration Impact Fund, introduced by then Prime Minister Gordon Brown in 2008 and scrapped by the current Prime Minister David Cameron in 2010, which diverted public money to shoring up services in areas with high immigration.

And he said that employers had to be stopped from exclusively advertising jobs abroad, resulting in Eastern European workforces being moved "lock, stock and barrell" into the U.K., undercutting local workers.

Corbyn said Labour would fight to ensure negotiations over Britain's future relationship with the EU did not result in the widespread removal of social protections, and said, "We cannot let the Tories run riot over our hard-fought environmental protection regulations."

But he did not commit to supporting Britain's continued access to the EU single market. "We have to develop a trade relationship with Europe, whether that means membership of the single market or not I don't know more than anybody else does at this stage," Corbyn said.