MP sticks to his guns at Labour conference immigration event
Chuka Umunna has said the Brexit vote was a rejection of free movement of people from the EU in its current form, and suggested its ties to single market membership could change ahead of elections in EU countries.
The MP and candidate to replace Keith Vaz as chair of the home affairs select committee was speaking at a Fabian Society fringe event at Labour Party Conference today on immigration and integration.
His remarks follow an interview he gave to the Huffington Post in which he suggested giving up single market membership would be worth escaping EU free movement rules, for which he received some criticism online.
Umunna, speaking at the conference event in Liverpool today, attacked those who say all Leave voters are ‘bigots and racists’ or were duped, calling this ‘unbelievably patronising’.
He said this also applies to people who voted Conservative at last year’s general election:
‘Treating them like the devil incarnate is hardly the way to get them to vote for a Labour government in the future.’
Umunna said repeating the arguments of the referendum or calling for another vote would not heal the divisions Brexit flagged up in society.
He said you can show people as much data as you like, but they believe immigration has affected them economically and brought cultural changes to local communities, and that these concerns are valid. Umunna said:
‘We have been far too complacent and far too laissez faire about integrating people when they come here […]
That’s left a vacuum which the populist right and the far right have gone into. We have got to be in that space. […]
‘When people say, ‘You’re waving the white flag, you’re giving in to UKIP’ – No I’m not. Are we saying we want people to live parallel lives? No we don’t.
We like to think in London we’re this great melting pot, [but] we’re less integrated than other parts of the country.’
On freedom of movement, one of the four freedoms linked to membership of the single market, Umunna argued there could be space for a compromise:
‘In Germany, Angela Merkel has got a general election in 2017, as has Francois Hollande in France, and they’re both going to be against populists of the far right making free movement an issue.
They have got to move and change the way the movement of people operates in the European Union.’
‘We have a verdict in the referendum on how free movement works in the European Union that they [UK voters] don’t want it in the current way.
We have got to find the alternative that works for us and them.’
He said Theresa May’s government should be pressed on working for this compromise with EU leaders so Britain can remain in the single market but reform free movement rules, for example by requiring that people show they have a job before they arrive in the UK.
Umunna also said ‘the UK government must guarantee the rights of EU citizens who are here’ to remain in Britain if they choose.
Free movement was also a contentious issue at Liberal Democrat conference last week, with former deputy leader and Business Secretary Vince Cable differing with the party, by saying single market membership and free movement can and should be separated.Sign up to Left Foot Forward's weekday email for the latest progressive news and comment - and support campaigning journalism by making a donation today.