Talk to Al Jazeera

Jeremy Corbyn on Brexit, Yemen and the Gulf crisis

The Labour leader discusses Grenfell Tower, Theresa May, Al Jazeera and the GCC.

Jeremy Corbyn, the leftist leader of Britain’s Labour Party, has repeatedly beaten the odds in his long political career and he appears to have done so again with an unexpectedly strong result in the UK’s national election.

Drawing comparisons to Bernie Sanders in the United States, Corbyn on the campaign trail railed against the establishment and harnessed public angst over Prime Minister Theresa May‘s leadership in turbulent times.

But what’s next for the leader? And is the UK ready for a change? 

In this episode of Talk to Al Jazeera we sit with the veteran politician to talk about Brexit, the Grenfell Tower and Corbyn’s take on the Gulf crisis

Below an adapted transcript of the episode, that has been edited for clarity purposes.

UK politics

Al Jazeera: Your party performed much better than many analysts had predicted. What is the next move for you, as leader of the opposition?

Jeremy Corbyn: The commentators got it wrong. They didn’t understand the feelings of people all over the country, of anger, about austerity cuts, to public expenditure, cuts to services, and frozen wages in the public sector, and they didn’t understand the frustrations of millions of young people who see a life ahead of them of debt.

And so it was that frustration that bubbled up.

Al Jazeera: What are you going to do with that frustration now? Are you just going to rest on your laurels and try and consolidate support?

Corbyn: We’re not resting on laurels at all, because we didn’t actually win the election, we put on more votes than the Labour Party’s put in any election, any time, since the second world war.

We gained seats in the election and we came very close to winning it all together, but we didn’t win it all together.

We now are the second-largest party in parliament and we’re in a very strong position. So, we’re challenging the government very, very hard.

We now are the second-largest party in parliament and we're in a very strong position. So, we're challenging the government very, very hard

by Jeremy Corbyn

We’re taking our campaign out around the country, I am starting this weekend with the beginnings of a visit to every one of the 73 constituencies, we need to win in order to form the Labour government.

We don’t know how long this government could last, because as you pointed out they’ve done a deal with the Democratic Unionist Party. They’ve offered them very large sums of money for some capital investment in Northern Ireland.

This is a time of incredible political flux and growth party membership, Labour Party membership has gone up from 200,000 in at the time the last general election in 2015, to now, for this general election, almost 600,000 and moving towards 600,000 members.

Massive increase, big increase in support, but we don’t stop there. 

Thousands more have joined the party since the election and there appears to be a growth in support for us, and so we are out there campaigning.

Al Jazeera: Campaigning on policies or is part of your campaign a focus to bring down this government before the next election?

Corbyn: The two things go together, we’re campaigning on policies, which are about social justice, in Britain, and exposing what has been happening for the past seven years. We’ve had 40 percent cut for example, in local councils expenditure. 

That means closed libraries, closed swimming pools.

If public services don't operate, and you cut expenditure by 40 percent, there is a connection between them

by Jeremy Corbyn

It means – in schools – oversized classes, it means a lack of public administration, and the awful events that happened very recently when a tower block in London, a block of flats caught fire. 

Over 80 people already recorded as being killed in that. But we know there are many more bodies that have still not been identified. 

Al Jazeera: On the Grenfell fire, you made the point that the cuts in public spending, there is a link between it and the fire. Your opponents claim that that was a cheap shot to score political points. What’s your response?

Corbyn:I think we’ve got to wake up in the whole country on this that was an overcrowded block which had dangerous cladding to it, the outside cladding was flammable, and it led to the awful events that happened there.

So what happened to building control inspection? What happened to fire inspections? What happened to planning controls? That this was allowed to happen not just in Grenfell Towers but in all the others.

And the point I simply made to the prime minister was: There is a connection.

If public services don’t operate, and you cut expenditure by 40 percent, there is a connection between them. 

Al Jazeera: Ok, let’s move to Brexit, and the process of exiting the European Union. The government and you agree on leaving the single market. Is that out of ideological conviction? Or what’s the wisdom behind that?

Corbyn: A year ago there was a referendum, and that referendum came to a decision that we should leave the European Union.

And I think one has to respect that decision. We’re very clear on a number of things.

  • One: We are leaving the European Union
  • Two: We want the closest possible trade relations with Europe in the future, a tariff-free access to the European Market.
  • Thirdly: That we guarantee the rights of European Union nationals living in Britain to remain here and the rights of their families to join them should they wish to do so here

So that position would be secure, and we ask the European countries to do the same for British nationals, but not on a reciprocal basis. We would do it unilaterally.

That’s the Labour view.


Al Jazeera: Let’s move to another issue, and talk about the spate of attacks that have taken place in the United Kingdom over the past year. How do you think the UK should be tackling the problem of terrorism?

Corbyn: I think immediately you have to deal with it on a security basis.

That is ensuring that you’re aware of any dangers that are going on, and you try to prevent them, and you have an effective police and security service to deal with that.

The response by the security services of the police in the immediate aftermath of the attacks was again very good, but they’re very stretched.

There’s been 10,000 police officers who lost their jobs, but there is the wider context of it, and that is the government has pursued a policy called, “Prevent”, which the idea being to prevent radicalisation of young Muslims in Britain.

We believe that policy should be changed. There should be a counter-extremism policy, which should deal with far-right racism and any other form of irrational extremism that happens within our society.

But there’s also has to be a recognition that the connection with Libya of some of the most radical people, which has huge ungoverned spaces, has to be addressed.

Al Jazeera: There are a lot of studies that show a direct link between Britain’s foreign policy and the attacks that have taken place across the UK. Yet as you mentioned the UK government continues to put more resources into programmes that focus on surveillance, and spying on minority communities in the UK. What’s your take on this? And what policy are you pushing as an alternative to this?

None of those acts of terror are down in the name of Islam as I understand it, any more than attacks such as Timothy McVeigh in Oklahoma were done in the name of Christianity

by Jeremy Corbyn

Corbyn: In the aftermath of the Manchester attack, we had a pause in general election campaigning, and on the day that we restarted campaigning I gave a thoughtful speech, about the issue, about the way in which communities unite in the face of adversity, and the way we will not allow our democracy to be destroyed by those who commit acts of terror.

None of those acts of terror are down in the name of Islam as I understand it, any more than attacks such as Timothy McVeigh in Oklahoma were done in the name of Christianity.

They are acts of terror, that will seek to kill and divide people. They are wrong, absolutely wrong. I drew the connection with foreign policy.

I drew the connection with the invasion of Iraq in 2003, and indeed what happened in Afghanistan in 2001, and, of course, the later on the bombing of Libya.

And indeed, when I spoke, in the huge rally in Hyde Park, in London, in 2003, I said this war if it goes ahead, will leave behind a legacy of bitterness and civil strife and terrorism in the future. And, sadly, that is in part what has happened, and, so far, of course, one has to say any terror attack is fundamentally the responsibility of the persons who committed that attack.

You have to, I think, start learning the lessons. I think a lot of people have learnt those lessons.


Yemen and the GCC crisis

Al Jazeera: What’s your stance on the ongoing war in Yemen? A war that’s being led by one of the UK’s closest allies Saudi Arabia? 

Corbyn: I’m totally shocked by the war in Yemen.


by ”Jeremy

weapons by Saudi Arabia in Yemen, and called for the suspension of the arms sales to Saudi Arabia to show that we are wanting a peace process in Yemen, not an invasion by Saudi Arabia”]

Totally shocked, by the bombardment that’s taken place, by the killings that have happened, by the cholera outbreak that’s now rife, and the numbers who are affected, the numbers who have already died.

And, of course, the numbers of people living in desperate poverty or indeed in starvation. Now think about it, cholera is a wholly and totally and completely preventable disease.

It comes from dirty water. It comes from pollution, it comes from the breakdown of the normal civilian infrastructure that we all enjoy in the cities and towns where we live.

And so, we have constantly condemned the use of [British-made] weapons by Saudi Arabia in Yemen and called for the suspension of the arms sales to Saudi Arabia to show that we are wanting a peace process in Yemen, not an invasion by Saudi Arabia.

We’ve made that very clear.

Emily Thornberry, our shadow foreign secretary, has spoken on this frequently in Parliament, and indeed moved a resolution on it in Parliament.

Al Jazeera: So there will be a Labour-read resolution in Parliament demanding that the UK government suspends arms sales?

Corbyn: We have already put that resolution to parliament in the last Parliament.

We’ll continue to do that there’s a new parliament formed after this general election, our policy of the Labour Party is unchanged.

Al Jazeera: Will this also include another Gulf country, which is the United Arab Emirates? Because there’s been reports by Human Rights Watch, as well as media reports, and the Associated Press of secret prisons that have been set up in Yemen by the UAE, in which these secret prisons widespread torture has happened. Two cases that have been documented of people being roasted alive on a spit, essentially burnt, as part of the torture there and yet the UAE also is one of the UK’s closest allies.

Corbyn: The UAE enjoys a lot of commercial flights here and in fact when it comes to foreign policy there’s been reports or instances where Britain’s foreign policy to the Middle East has actually been directly influenced by the United Arab Emirates.

There has to be a ceasefire in Yemen. There has to be independent, verifiable United Nations inspections, and crimes, including war crimes, that have been committed must be investigated and must be dealt with for what they are.

All of those allegations have to be investigated, and the evidence has to come forward. And, arms sales policy has to reflect that we do not believe those countries that commit abuses of human rights or kill civilians with the use of those weapons should continue to receive British arms. 

Al Jazeera: I want to ask you about the crisis with Qatar, Saudi Arabia, the United Arab Emirates, and Bahrain have been laying siege to Qatar now for more than three weeks. They’ve issued a list of demands that they say Doha must meet, and amongst those demands is the shutting down, not only of Al Jazeera but also of several other media outlets. Why have you not come out and condemn this attempt at curbing free speech and press freedoms in the Gulf? 


by ”Jeremy

some of whom are still in prison in Egypt”]

Corbyn:Well, I’ve always condemned the curtailing of free speech.

And I’ve always supported press freedoms, indeed, I’ve always supported Al Jazeera’s right to be able to broadcast, indeed. I spent a lot of time supporting your colleagues […] some of whom are still in prison in Egypt.

And the demand that Al Jazeera to be shut down is obviously completely wrong, and indeed, Sigmar Gabriel, the foreign minister in Germany, has made it very clear that the demands being placed on Qatar are completely unreasonable. There has to be an end to any kind of siege.

Al Jazeera: How do you view Britain being best placed to bring about a political solution to this considering the close ties that the UK has with all the different Gulf countries?

Corbyn: Britain, obviously, has very close ties in some cases, as being a former colonial power, and obviously a major trading partner with many countries in the region, and, obviously, has a diplomatic presence all over the region.

I’ve made my points about interventions in Iraq, I made by points about interventions in Libya.

I’ve also continued to make the points about arms sales to Saudi Arabia. And indeed, when the situation in Bahrain has become acute I’ve often spoken out on that as well.

I’ve spoken at about Bahrain at the UN Human Rights Council, and a number of seminars have been held there. And so, yes, I want a Labour government in Britain and there may well be one, soon as we get a general election, and that Labour government is a cornerstone of its foreign policy will be promotion of human rights and democracy.


The war in Syria

Al Jazeera: Let’s move on to another major crisis in the Middle East and it’s the war in Syria. That war still ongoing, it’s almost seven years now? What’s your solution to the war there?

Corbyn: The war is appalling. The thousands and tens of thousands that continue to suffer and die because of that war must get some relief. 

The only way forward has to be a ceasefire that involves Russia, America, involves the European Union, involves the neighbouring states and involves the Syrian regime.

There has to be a reconvening of Geneva 3 and there has to be a settlement that recognises the diversity of Syria and allows the refugees to return home.

We cannot go on, just accepting that arms will pour into the region and more and more bombing will take place, knowing full well that many of those people that die are actually civilians, completely uninvolved with the fighting.

I opposed the British intervention in Syria because I believed we should move towards a diplomatic solution, that we should move towards reconvening the Geneva talks, Geneva 3.

Now is the time to do that, urgently, to obtain a new ceasefire.

I believe it is possible, in order to bring about some longer-term solution. I don’t support any of the sides in the conflict.

I don’t support the Assad regime. I do condemn its human rights abuses as I condemn the human rights abuses of all others. The only way forward has to be Geneva three and a political solution.

Al Jazeera: What about the international fight against ISIS or Daesh? These groups didn’t exist prior to the illegal invasion or occupation of Iraq, they now exist. And as a result of this war on ISIL, there are hundreds of thousands, if not millions of refugees, what is the solution to Iraq, essentially?

Corbyn: ISIS has grown because it’s had money; because it’s had arms; because it’s had space. The arms didn’t come from nowhere; the money didn’t come from nowhere.

ISIS has grown because it's had money; because it's had arms; because it's had space. The arms didn't come from nowhere; the money didn't come from nowhere. The sales of oils don't go nowhere

by Jeremy Corbyn

The sales of oils don’t go nowhere.

There’s a lot of people that are complicit in the growth of ISIS. And so I would have a very, very strong policy of total isolation of ISIS, at the same time as promoting a political settlement in Syria that seems to me to be the key to the future.

Al Jazeera: You are definitely one of the most popular people in Britain these days.  How has this huge transformation, the success that you’ve witnessed, how has that changed you as a person?

Well, I was on my bike this morning. I love cycling and I love talking to people in the area that I represent, and continue to do so, and always will, because the only way you can ever lead is by listening, and listening to people who are going through stress and strains in their ordinary lives.

And supporting them, and learning from them. Leadership isn’t always about telling people what to do or what to think. It’s understanding what’s going on in their lives.

I first spent my life in political activity for peace, for justice, for human rights, and I continue to do that.