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Labour's Corbyn could still back leaving EU, says party's 'out' campaign

LONDON (Reuters) - Opposition Labour Party leader Jeremy Corbyn’s backing for Britain’s membership of the European Union contradicts his past views and could change ahead of an upcoming referendum, the Labour ‘out’ campaign said on Wednesday.

Britain's opposition Labour Party leader Jeremy Corbyn speaks on the BBC's Andrew Marr Show in London, January 17, 2016. REUTERS/Jeff Overs/BBC/Handout via Reuters

Eurosceptic left-wing lawmaker Corbyn, who voted ‘No’ to Europe in a 1975 British referendum, initially refused to rule out campaigning to leave the bloc after he was elected in September, but has since said Labour will back remaining.

“It would not surprise me if that did change because it is completely inconsistent with what Jeremy has done in his time in parliament,” Labour lawmaker Graham Stringer, co-chair of ‘out’ campaign “Labour Leave,” told reporters at its launch.

Stringer, who said he was due to meet Corbyn later on Wednesday to press him over his position, said the leader and his finance spokesman John McDonnell had consistently voted to oppose EU integration over their 30 years in parliament.

Corbyn was elected with strong support among the party’s members but less backing from his own lawmakers.

“One can guess that it was about securing his position ... but it is not his natural position, it is not his historic position,” Stringer said. “I am going to try and nudge him back to his natural position.”

A spokesman for Corbyn said his position would not change.

“The Labour Party has got a united position, which is to support the ‘remain’ campaign but at the same time to push an agenda of progressive social change in Europe,” he said.

“It’s been well established since Jeremy was elected that that’s our collective position and that will go on being the case.”

Prime Minister David Cameron has promised to renegotiate Britain’s ties with Brussels ahead of a referendum due by the end of 2017. He hopes to reach a deal with other EU members at a meeting next month, paving the way for a vote as early as June.

Stringer said Corbyn’s position also did not chime with many of the thousands of people who had joined Labour since it lost last year’s national election, and was not electorally attractive in the run up to local and regional elections in May.

Labour said in the 2015 general election campaign that a referendum should only be held if there were a further transfer of powers to Brussels, but within weeks of losing had come out in support of the government’s plan to hold a vote.

Additional reporting by William James; editing by Stephen Addison