Jeremy Corbyn: Labour will not back EU exit

Media caption,
Labour leader Jeremy Corbyn speaks to political editor Laura Kuenssberg

Labour leader Jeremy Corbyn has told the BBC that he will not campaign for Britain to leave the European Union.

Mr Corbyn said that while policy was "developing" he could not foresee a situation where Labour would campaign for a "Brexit" under his leadership.

He has come under growing pressure from Labour MPs to clarify his position.

Mr Corbyn, who took part in his first prime minister's questions (PMQs) on Wednesday, has also questioned if he should have to join the Privy Council.

In a wide-ranging interview with the BBC's political editor Laura Kuenssberg, he would not commit to taking part in the historic Privy Council ceremony, which requires senior politicians to kneel before the Queen.

He also said it was "very strange" his decision not to sing the national anthem at a service commemorating the Battle of Britain had attracted so much interest - insisting he had "respected the sacrifice" of those who had fought and died.

Asked about potential disagreements with shadow cabinet members, many of whom did not back his leadership bid, he said there would be discussions ahead.

He also urged colleagues to respect his mandate and insisted the final decision on policy would be his.

'Social Europe'

Mr Corbyn used his first PMQs to put questions from members of the public to David Cameron - an approach which he said meant "people's voices would be heard".

Media caption,
Jeremy Corbyn on kneeling to the Queen: "I didn't know that was involved"

Telling MPs that he wanted to make PMQs "less theatrical" and more in touch with public concerns, he asked six questions on housing, tax credits and mental health which he said had been suggested to him by members of the public.

Mr Cameron, who began his own career as opposition leader in 2005 promising to end "Punch and Judy" politics, said "no one would be more delighted than me" if PMQs could become a "genuine exercise in asking questions and answering questions".

BBC political editor Laura Kuenssberg's analysis

Image source, PA
Image caption,
MPs behaved themselves during the exchanges

Well we're only four days in and an awful lot has happened. Not only was there a totally new PMQs this lunchtime, tonight Jeremy Corbyn gave his first proper interview since winning the leadership and had some extremely interesting things to say, and some surprises.

Mr Corbyn, who is regarded as the most eurosceptic Labour leader for years, has insisted that Mr Cameron should not be given a "blank cheque" in negotiations about the UK's EU membership ahead of a future in-out referendum, and any changes he secures must be the "right ones".

Since being elected on Saturday, he has declined to categorically rule out campaigning for the UK to leave the EU - despite shadow foreign secretary Hilary Benn saying this should be the case and shadow justice secretary Lord Falconer saying he would quit if this happened.

Mr Corbyn told the BBC that policy was still "developing" but he said he envisaged making the UK's continued membership of the EU a manifesto commitment for the 2020 election.

Asked whether he could ever foresee campaigning to leave the EU, he replied: "No I don't see that position."

Privy Council

But he said he wanted the EU to change direction and move away from the increasingly market-driven model he said it had adopted in the past 20 years.

"We are having discussions to sort this question out. Basically, on the question of Europe, I want to see a social Europe, a cohesive Europe, a coherent Europe, not a free market Europe.

"That is a developing position. It is not a problem, we have had that discussion, we are continuing that discussion, there will be very clear statements coming out in the very near future."

He rejected suggestions that his position had shifted, adding: "What I remain opposed to is the idea that David Cameron could go around and give up workers rights, give up environmental protection, give up a whole load of things that are very important."

Media caption,
David Cameron paused while answering a question to mock jeering MPs for failing to behave themselves, as Jeremy Corbyn wanted

In the interview, Mr Corbyn refused to say whether he would kneel before the Queen as a prerequisite of joining the Privy Council - the historic body of senior politicians that advises the monarch on matters of state and receives security briefings.

As part of the Privy Council ceremony, politicians kneel before the Queen and kiss her hand but Mr Corbyn - who is a longstanding republican - said he "didn't know that was involved" and said he would discuss the matter with colleagues.

"Of course I'll end up being a member of the Privy Council if that's what the requirement of the job is. I think there are some things that ought to change in our society and maybe that's one of them."

Media caption,
Jeremy Corbyn was greeted by cheers as he got to his feet for his PMQs debut

Critics have accused Mr Corbyn of making a series of "unforced errors" since he became leader but senior figures in the party - including Lord Prescott and Margaret Beckett - have been supportive, welcoming his change of tactics at PMQs and insisting that he is "finding his feet".

Amid calls for him to do more to get his message across in the media, Labour announced that it had appointed a senior former aide to Ken Livingstone as the party's new director for policy and rebuttal.

Neale Coleman worked for the Greater London Assembly for 12 years, during which he advised Ken Livingstone and his successor Boris Johnson on housing, regeneration and the 2012 Olympic bid, before becoming chair of the London Legacy Development Corporation.

Meanwhile, businessman and Hull City football club owner Assem Allam has reportedly offered to support MPs who want to break away from Labour and launch a centrist party or defect to the Liberal Democrats.

Mr Allam, who has donated £720,000 to Labour since 2010, told The Times the party under Mr Corbyn was too left-wing and faced two or three further election defeats.

He said: "I will do anything I can if I am convinced they can form a strong opposition."

More on this story