Jeremy Corbyn discusses Ukraine, Greece, Brexit, NHS and Labour Party ahead of participation at MeRA25 Congress

On his way to Athens to take part in the first Congress of MeRA25, our political party in the Greek parliament, former UK Labour leader Jeremy Corbyn spoke to Greek daily newspaper TA NEA. Read his interview below.

Mr Corbyn, you are coming to Greece this May to participate in the MeRA25 Congress. Why MeRA25? The Syriza Congress took place recently, and as far as I know, they too wanted to invite you.

I’ve been planning a trip to Greece with Yanis Varoufakis for some time and I’m delighted to attend the MeRA25 Congress to discuss peace, justice and international solidarity.

I’m not aware of any other invitation but, of course, I work with left and progressive parties across Europe and indeed the world. That includes Syriza, who I sit and work with in the Unified European Left Group at Parliamentary Assembly of the Council of Europe.

A general question: In the latest French election, we witnessed the consolidation of a strong far right presence with Le Pen and Zemmour, even though Macron was reelected. On the other hand, Spain and Portugal have social democratic governments. Which trend do you believe will prevail?

I believe that because things are the way they are, they can’t stay the way they are. The global system is breaking down: climate, debt, supply chains, conflict, inequality. The centre cannot hold and, as you suggest, we are already witnessing the growth of the far right in many countries. It is up to the left to present a powerful and hopeful alternative. I know we can do it.

Mélenchon got close to beating the far right in the presidential elections and I’m hopeful that now the left is coming together in France that hope is on the horizon.

Where do you stand on the Russian invasion in Ukraine? Do you believe that it is right politically to confront both Russia and Nato?

I utterly condemn Russia’s invasion of Ukraine. It is unjustifiable. The focus now must be on securing a ceasefire, the withdrawal of Russian troops and a comprehensive negotiated settlement.

That comprehensive negotiated settlement must clearly include neutral status for Ukraine. NATO should have wound up at the end of the Cold War. Military alliances and belligerence breeds further belligerence. NATO expansion is wrong and sets back the cause of peace. So those of us that live in NATO countries must be critical of the role our governments have played in stoking tensions and creating the conditions in which Putin has taken his murderous and foolish decision to invade Ukraine.

How does your Peace and Justice Project address war and peace issues more broadly?

Our position is very simple: wars end with dialogue and negotiation so let’s find ways to fast forward to that and cut out the fighting. In the short term, we achieve that through building a mass, global peace movement that can pressure governments to come to the table and talk. In the longer term, we challenge the war machine: the arms companies, the defence contractors and the trigger happy political class: through campaigns in our own countries and internationally through the UN and other bodies to get to a nuclear free world. And we also build the institutions that can manage and resolve conflict and truly advance a diplomacy of peoples.

Regarding the UK, did your nuanced Brexit position cost you politically? How do you see Brexit evolving today?

Brexit divided our potential electoral coalition and sucked the energy away from other vital issues. We wanted to bring together the many – leave and remain voters – against the few.

Brexit means two rather different things. One is a political or cultural signifier in British politics and society. I think that one will drift away and be replaced by others. Brexit as a political project has been achieved.

The other meaning is as a practical project for changing Britain’s relationship with the EU. This will have many more twists in the tail and depends on developments in the EU too. I think on some areas, we’ll see greater cooperation between the EU and the UK. But whether the UK will be able to pursue a different economic model with some distance from EU rules, that depends on the political direction of EU states and the UK. Will we move away from the neoliberal model, which will mean either breaking or changing EU rules, as Mélenchon is talking about in France, or will we remain chained to it? It’s a question for the UK and the EU alike and would be regardless of the formal relationship.

As Greece is coming out of the pandemic, do you believe it is the right time to discuss our National Health System? Do you believe the idea of a public NHS is gathering strength or will the establishment find ways of continuing to undermine it?

The NHS is the single most civilised thing about the UK. It’s a great victory won by the British people. We will always defend it. Right now it is being terribly run down, underfunded and privatised. We not only need to turn that around but create a National Care Service to ensure everyone can live in dignity and without fear of getting old or sick.

One last thing: You were expelled from the Labour Party for alleged antisemitism. How do you respond to these accusations and to the new leadership’s behaviour towards you? More generally, could you comment on Keir Starmer’s policies?

I am obviously very saddened that the party that I’ve dedicated my entire political career to has arrived at this position. It’s no secret that as Labour leader I took my fair share of abuse, not least from some grossly unfair and extremely hostile media which has been the subject of a number of academic studies. But nothing was and is quite as hurtful as the suggestion that I, or any of my team, were in any way complicit in antisemitism.

For 35 years as MP for Islington North, I have stood shoulder to shoulder and worked hand in hand with both my Jewish constituents and Jewish communities across the country to confront antisemitism and to advance Jewish causes. I have warned against and constantly sought to draw attention to the rise in antisemitism across Europe, and the need for politicians across parties to confront it. My record on this speaks for itself for anyone who cares to look. So this allegation was not just deeply hurtful on a personal level, it was categorically untrue. In fact I am extremely proud of our record in introducing root and branch reforms to the Labour Party’s governance that went further than any leadership in history to expose and confront anti-Jewish prejudice within the Labour movement.

Again, the evidence and record is absolutely conclusive on this. By the time we managed to gain control over Labour’s governance from politically hostile incumbents, the rate of antisemitism complaints investigations increased fourfold and there was a dramatic escalation in the number of sanctions – including expulsions – for those engaging in any kind of prejudice against Jewish members or Jewish people in general.

It remains a profound injustice to Jewish members that the factionalism and hostility of senior incumbent officials within the Labour party impeded some of our initial efforts to introduce reforms. And it is a profound failure of the EHRC investigation into this matter that they did not shine a light on this, and uncover the real root causes of initial failings in the complaints system. But as Labour leader I accepted my ultimate responsibility for every single case of antisemitism within our party and I took this extremely seriously, both in terms of concrete actions and apologising wholeheartedly to the Jewish community on behalf of the Labour movement.

That is why I welcomed and endorsed the recommendations of the EHRC report. But I’m afraid the suggestion that the Labour Party under my leadership was institutionally antisemitic, or that me and my team were anything other than relentlessly proactive and determined to address this issue is a constructed lie, and one that gained enormous traction across the mainstream press. That is the point that I was making in my statement following the EHRC report which triggered my suspension from the party.

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