Jeremy Corbyn sets out his stall on Labour’s immigration divide

A Labour government will not 'offer false promises' on immigration

 

In his speech to the Labour Party Conference this afternoon, Jeremy Corbyn will reiterate his commitment to liberal immigration policy.

‘A Labour government will not offer false promises,’ he will tell delegates. ‘We will not sow division or fan the flames of fear. We will instead tackle the real issues of immigration – and make the real changes that are needed.’

The party has spent most of its conference week attempting to unite after a summer of acrimony, but on immigration the divides are only getting deeper.

Some, like Rachel Reeves, have taken a hard line on stopping European freedom of movement — she has argued that not to do so would mean ‘holding voters in contempt.’

Chuka Umunna, too, has suggested that ending freedom of movement should be a red line in Brexit talks, even if it means losing enhanced access to the single market.

And many more have danced close to the fence, insisting that Labour must be more attentive to voters’ concerns about immigration, but in a progressive, left-wing way.

With today’s speech, Corbyn is making clear that his pro-immigrant stance has not changed and will not change in the aftermath of the referendum.

He will propose alternative methods of managing the pressures associated with immigration:

“We will act to end the exploitation of migrant labour to undercut workers’ pay and conditions. And we will ease the pressure on hard pressed public services – services that are struggling to absorb Tory austerity cuts, in communities absorbing new populations.

“Labour will reinstate the migrant impact fund, abolished by the Tory government. That will give extra support to areas of high migration. We will use the visa levy for its intended purpose. And we will add a citizenship application fee levy to boost the fund.”

The pre-released extracts have generated a mixed response. The right-wing press is, unsurprisingly, on the attack — the Daily Mail says Corbyn is ‘in la la land on migrants’.

Yet migration experts have argued that Corbyn is right not to focus on cutting numbers, citing the disastrous consequences of David Cameron’s pledge to reduce immigration to the tens of thousands. The approach will also play very well with many of Corbyn’s young, urban supporters, who see him as taking a brave stance against the scapegoating of migrants.

However, as Corbyn will warn today, Labour must be prepared for a general election as early as 2017. It’s difficult to see how any clear party line will emerge on immigration in that time — and voters hate uncertainty.

Niamh Ní Mhaoileoin is editor of Left Foot Forward. Follow her on Twitter

See also: Labour shouldn’t fall into the Leave campaign’s trap on immigration

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