Green cake
How Green is the European cake? Photo by

Jeremy Corbyn, new leader of Labour and much-beloved of many bright Greens (though see this view of  why we all still have damn good reasons for not even thinking about joining Labour), shocked his Party, during the leadership election campaign and early in his premiership, by saying that he would not commit to voting Yes in the EU referendum. It didn’t take long, however, before he backtracked on this (and on opposition to Trident), in response to pressure from the Right of his Party. Corbyn has now said he is 100% signed up to stay in the EU, no matter what.

We think that Corbyn’s swift climbdown is a matter for regret. The argument that he was making, up until five days ago when the Blairites got to him, made great sense. Can it really make any sense to commit now to voting to stay in the EU, no matter what they EU is by the time of the referendum itself?

Many Greens have already joined the Yes campaign. But the same questions apply: is it sensible to commit to a Yes vote before you know what you are voting for? And how can you know what you are endorsing, if you don’t know what Cameron’s renegotiation has led to, because the renegotiation hasn’t happened yet?

Naturally, we both believe 100% that the Green Party is the Party of the future, the only eco-logical Party. Corbyn, for all his virtues, has made no difference to that. He falls short of what Greens offer and what the world needs in so many ways. But we think that this is one issue where Corbyn actually had got it dead right, until his Party forced him to shift to the same position that the Green Party currently holds.

The personal view of the two of us is that one ought not to commit ahead of time to remaining in a pro-austerity, pro-big-business, anti-democratic EU, in the coming referendum. We quote here from a Guardian article that addresses this point in terms which make clear precisely what we mean. This is the intelligent position that Corbyn took, prior to giving into right-wing Labour EU-philia:

“Corbyn made clear that he would not give David Cameron a “blank cheque” in his EU negotiations as he made it clear that the prime minister cannot promote a “free-market European economy that tears up environmental protection, social protection and workers’ rights”.

Asked what he would do as leader if the prime minister ignored his demands in the negotiations, Corbyn said: “At that point we go back to our own party and our movement, and decide what we do. We don’t give a blank cheque now in advance for Cameron to do whatever he wants to do.”

Corbyn was right: because otherwise one is going naked into the conference chamber. One is giving Cameron carte blanche to scrap what remains of ‘social Europe’ and ‘environmental Europe’. It amounts to saying that, whatever gets scrapped, one is still blindly going to vote ‘Yes’. We think that is an irresponsible attitude to take.

Now of course, at some point, we will have to choose between voting Yes to remain in, No to come out, or abstaining/boycotting the whole thing. But those inclined to vote Yes ought to ask themselves: isn’t there some green line that you wouldn’t cross? What if Cameron negotiates an opt-out to the Euro-laws that have improved workers’ rights somewhat? What if the environmental laws that are the main reason for many Greens wanting to remain in the EU get scrapped?

Show us a line you aren’t willing to cross; give us a threshold. Otherwise, it looks like you have an arbitrary dogmatic commitment to staying in the EU.

How are Greens going to choose between cutting our ties with the continent on the one hand and embracing a pro-TTIP, pro-corporate, ‘anti-social’ EU on the other? Far too little thought has as yet been given to this unpleasant question: we would argue strongly (see p.9 of the August issue of Green World) that Corbyn was right to raise a very large question-mark over the EU, certainly if Cameron’s ‘renegotiation’ makes that institution even more problematic than it already is.

It’s a real shame that, on this issue as on many more to follow, Corbyn, because he is vastly outnumbered by ‘fellow’ Labour MPs who disagree with him, has ducked the question. We’d urge fellow Greens not to make the same mistake as Labour. We’d urge Greens to to take (y)our time. Consider the arguments we’ve marshalled here; wait and see how much worse Cameron manages to make the EU or Britain as part of it; and then, and only then, decide where to stand on the EU referendum, which is still probably two years away.