HEALING a divided Britain is the top priority for Jeremy Corbyn as the nation heads into local and European elections.

The leader of the Labour Party spoke to the Guardian at the Red Lion pub in Winsford, where he was lending support to Cheshire West Labour ahead of the vote on May 2.

And with Brexit bringing divisions among society into the spotlight, Mr Corbyn believes a vote for his party next month could help to build bridges.

He said: “We’ve got to heal wounds, we’ve got to bring people together.

Northwich Guardian:

Rosa Gatta and Millie Sordillo with Mr Corbyn in Winsford. Image: Danny Lawson/PA Wire

“However people voted [in the EU referendum] in 2016 should be just parked for a moment so we can look at the issues facing communities, look at the way austerity has hit people’s life chances and living standards, the way Universal Credit impacts on the most vulnerable people.

“Most families on Universal Credit are £50 a week worse off as a result of it, and we are therefore facing a problem of insecurity in housing, as well as insecurity in income levels and the growth of insecure work.

“These are all issues that have to be addressed, and what we proposed in the 2017 election, we stand and stick by.”

Mr Corbyn was making that promise while visiting a town with one of the highest levels of deprivation in Cheshire – and where more than a quarter of children are growing up in poverty, according to the most recent figures from the End Child Poverty Coalition.

Northwich Guardian:

Mr Corbyn and CWAC candidate Mandy Clare on the campaign trail. Image: Danny Lawson/PA Wire

So how can the situation be turned around?

Mr Corbyn said: “First of all by halting the roll-out of Universal Credit, ending the benefit freeze and ending the two-child policy which I think is immoral and inhumane.

“It is also about secure housing and I’m very pleased that the council since Labour got control of it is starting to build council housing again and is investing in communities.

“We have to have a proper regulated and controlled private rented sector, and a lot more council housing being built because children who are growing up in insecure private rented accommodation, and [tenants] paying high rents for often substandard places, is simply wrong in modern society.”

Cheshire West voted for Brexit with a slim majority of 50.6 per cent to 49.4 in 2016.

Northwich Guardian:

Mr Corbyn speaks to party members in the Red Lion. Image: Danny Lawson/PA Wire

The Government’s own predictions for Brexit’s impact suggest the economy will be hit to some degree whether the country leaves the EU with or without a deal.

Labour’s stance is to push for a customs union with the EU, access to the single market and to use European regulations as a ‘floor from which to build’ on workers rights and environmental protection.

No agreement has yet been reached between Labour and the Conservatives, but Mr Corbyn is determined to get his vision of Brexit across.

He said: “We are certainly not propping up the Tory Government, in fact I’m just thinking of the time I will introduce the next motion of no confidence in it.

Northwich Guardian:

Mr Corbyn meets Winsford Labour's Gina Lewis as he arrives in town

“However people voted in 2016 they didn’t vote to have chlorinated chicken or hormone beef, they voted for many different reasons.

“But we have to maintain that trading relationship with Europe. The Tory Right want to turn us into a sort of Donald Trump-style tax haven on the shores of Europe – well I’m not having any of that.

“I think the issues will go to Parliament and I think there probably is a majority for the idea of a customs union with Europe – I see that as the only credible way forward and Labour has put that forward.”

Having grown up in Newport, in neighbouring Shropshire, Mr Corbyn is no stranger to Cheshire.

Northwich Guardian:

Mr Corbyn checks out the Cheshire West Labour manifesto

He said: “I cycled from Newport to Oulton Park once to watch a race. I was so tired when I got there that I can’t even remember the race.”

He is also no stranger to the concerns Cheshire’s headteachers have raised over school funding while the Government has planned out its national funding formula.

A study by Mike Amesbury, Labour MP for Weaver Vale, found that schools in his constituency had lost £3.4 million since 2015 – while MPs and councillors on both sides of the political divide have repeated calls for fairing funding in Cheshire’s schools this year.

Mr Corbyn was due to head to a National Education Union conference in Liverpool following his visit to Winsford, and he has ideas in mind on how to improve the funding picture for schools.

Northwich Guardian:

Mr Corbyn joins the campaign trail in Nixon Drive. Image: Danny Lawson/PA Wire

He said: “First of all, a fair funding formula to all schools, and secondly a reduction to the stress levels of teachers.

“When a fifth of teachers say that they are ready to quit the profession that’s a warning message to all of us to say they cannot go on just taking them for granted – the stress that they go through and the stress that children go through. We have got to change it.

“Education should be a creative and enriching experience for both the teachers and students.”

Anti-HS2 campaigners have been buoyed by recent reports of the £50 billion scheme losing support in Government.

Northwich Guardian:

Mr Corbyn signs raffle prizes for the Labour event

Meanwhile Esther McVey, Conservative MP for Tatton, recently put geological concerns over running the high-speed railway through mid Cheshire to Chris Grayling MP, transport secretary.

It was the last Labour Government which put the wheels in motion for HS2 a decade ago, and Mr Corbyn insists any spending review on transport must include better infrastructure for the north.

“We supported the construction of HS2 in the sense of it improving the rail infrastructure of the whole country,” Mr Corbyn said.

“Personally, I think far more investment should be going into railways in the north of England rather than London and the south east, and we would support a Crossrail for the north.

“In any review that the Government is undertaking we will make our case for the inadequacy of rail investment in the north east and north west, and the necessity of a much better trans-Pennine link, electrified.”

Northwich Guardian:

Mr Corbyn meets Winsford resident Mary Carolan. Image: Danny Lawson/PA Wire

Before leaving journalists to speak to party members in the main room of the Red Lion, Mr Corbyn suggested Cheshire West Labour’s manifesto is a ‘rollicking good read’.

It includes a commitment to regeneration schemes across the borough’s town centres – something the Conservatives are also pushing with their own vision – and Mr Corbyn believes the plans are important.

“In some places there have been very good improvements on the high street,” he said.

“I’m looking at this manifesto for CWAC and it’s good, it is interesting what they are saying on trying to improve high streets and I agree with that.

Northwich Guardian:

Mr Corbyn addresses party members in the Red Lion. Image: Danny Lawson/PA Wire

“If we want strong communities it means there has to be a strong and safe community space.”

However, some business owners and residents have criticised the introduction of parking charges by Cheshire West and Chester Council’s Labour authority in towns such as Northwich – and they believe it is damaging the borough’s high streets.

Mr Corbyn said: “I sympathise with the position the council is in, it has had its funding from central Government cut a great deal.

“The council has to look at all services and they quite rightly see a priority in social services and care, mental health services, education and housing – and that is a priority.

Northwich Guardian:

Mr Corbyn and Mandy Clare campaigning in Winsford. Image: Danny Lawson/PA Wire

“They have put in – in some cases quite modest parking charges – but they are parking charges. I think they have made a reasonable decision in what is obviously not an easy situation for them.

“And I think we have to remember that those who need services are not necessarily the people best able to shout for them.”