Labour’s stance on EU migration is facing fresh confusion after Shadow Foreign Secretary Emily Thornberry declared that no one voted for Brexit “to take away somebody else’s job”.
Thornberry also refused to say that immigration “should” come down, but insisted it “will” be reduced if British workers are properly skilled up to take up jobs done by overseas staff.
Her remarks came amid irritation among Labour MPs that an internal briefing note admitted that party policy was still unformed.
The note on the party’s Parliamentary motion on Brexit, seen by HuffPost UK, states: “Labour recognise that we must establish fair migration rules as part of Brexit negotiations. How this is best achieved should form a central part of negotiations.”
Jeremy Corbyn’s team made clear at the party’s annual conference that he was ‘relaxed’ about migrant numbers and the Labour leader stressed that “it isn’t migrants” who drive down wages or put strains on the NHS.
But new Shadow Brexit Secretary Keir Starmer said this weekend that immigration “should be reduced”.
In an interview with BBC Radio 4’s Today programme, Thornberry refused to repeat the phrase.
“What Keir said is absolutely what Jeremy agrees with and I agree with too, which is that if we were to address the skills deficit, we would not need to rely on so many people coming in from abroad in order to fill those vacancies.2
When pushed again on whether migration ‘should’ be reduced, Thornberry replied: “Immigration will be reduced if the Government did do as we are suggesting which is to address our skills problem, to address the undercutting.
“If we fill that skills gap then clearly migration will go down.”
Thornberry also suggested that Labour’s position on freedom of movement for EU nationals was underpinned by a belief that no voters backed Brexit to take anyone else’s job.
“Our position is that we need to be open to the idea of reasonably managed migration. And we need to have it as part of a larger negotiation but we are open to that,” she said.
“Our position is that it is a negotiation and our position also is that nobody who voted in the Brexit referendum voted to take away someone else’s job. No one voted for our economy to be undermined.
“Nobody voted to take away their neighbour’s job, I can absolutely guarantee that.”