Corbyn says 'no blank cheque' for Cameron on Britain's EU membership

By Kylie MacLellan and Sarah Young

By Kylie MacLellan and Sarah Young

LONDON (Reuters) - The new left-wing leader of Britain's opposition Labour party said on Monday it should not automatically support any deal negotiated by Prime Minister David Cameron for Britain to remain in the European Union.

The comments by Jeremy Corbyn to a meeting of Labour members of parliament marked a departure from the party's unqualified pro-EU stance and appeared to put him at odds with members of his own newly appointed leadership team.

"We can't just give Cameron a blank cheque whatever he comes back with: we have to be fighting for the Europe that we want to see," a Labour spokeswoman said when asked what Corbyn had told the closed meeting.

Cameron, whose own Conservative party has a deeply eurosceptic wing, is attempting to claw back more powers from the EU, especially in areas like immigration, before calling a referendum, probably next year, on whether Britain should stay or leave.

Though Labour is in opposition, its stance on EU membership will be an important factor in a vote that could profoundly influence trade, investment and Britain's role in the world.

Corbyn, a left-winger initially seen as a rank outsider for the Labour leadership, was overwhelmingly elected on Saturday after a campaign in which he called for higher taxes on the rich, nationalisation of energy companies and a 'restriction' of NATO's role in Europe.

He has opposed the EU's planned trade pact with the United States and accused the bloc of allowing financiers to destroy Greece's economy. He has highlighted protecting worker's rights as a key area where he believes more needs to be done.

During the leadership campaign he told Reuters that if Cameron failed to deliver such reforms, the party would have to have a discussion about its position, possibly at a special conference.

"He was saying we have to be really clear about the changes that we want to see," the Labour spokeswoman said. "The most important thing is making sure that Europe is as good as it can be."


Hours earlier, Corbyn's new foreign affairs spokesman, Hilary Benn, told BBC radio: "Whatever differences we may have with some aspects of European policy, whatever reforms we want to see, we will stay to fight together for a better Europe. It is absolutely clear our policy has not changed.

"We will be campaigning to remain in the European Union."

Labour would campaign to stay in "under all circumstances", he said.

Britain's allies say leaving the world's biggest trading bloc would be foolhardy, exposing London's financial powerhouse to EU rules it would no longer influence and torpedoing Britain's remaining global clout.

Benn did not say whether the new leadership had discussed the issue of Europe since Saturday's election, but a senior Labour Party aide said that Corbyn had re-appointed Benn to the foreign affairs job knowing he backed staying in the EU.

The aide said Corbyn's appointment of Benn, 61, showed the new leader wanted a broad section of opinion among his ministers in waiting, known as the shadow cabinet.

Labour divisions over other issues have already emerged.

Deputy leader Tom Watson, elected in a separate vote on Saturday, has said he and Corbyn disagree over key defence policies such as Britain's membership of NATO, and such issues "have got to be worked out".

Watson also said he would vote 'Yes' in the referendum which is expected to be held in 2016.

"I will be a 'Yes' to Europe definitely and I hope we can convince the sceptics in the Labour Party that is where Labour needs to be in the referendum," he said.

(Editing by Guy Faulconbridge/Mark Trevelyan)