Labour needs to stop “sulking” about the EU referendum result and vow to end freedom of movement, one of the party’s northern heartland MPs has warned.
Jonathan Reynolds, who has represented the Greater Manchester seat of Stalybridge and Hyde since 2010, believes keeping the EU’s free movement rules in exchange for Single Market membership would be “unacceptable” to millions of Labour voters.
The Remain-campaigning Reynolds told HuffPost UK that people’s “genuine emotional concerns” about uncontrolled immigration cannot be dealt with just by pointing to reports and statistics which talk up the economic benefit of freedom of movement.
In a dig at colleagues such as Chuka Umunna who are calling for the Government to try and negotiate a compromise over freedom of movement in a Brexit deal, Reynolds said a “tweak” to the status quo “would not wash with people.”
He also argued campaigning for a second referendum “would be seen as an insult to a lot of voters”.
His comments come days after three other high profile Labour MPs – Rachel Reeves, Emma Reynolds and Steven Kinnock – all called for an end to free movement to the UK.
Speaking to the HuffPost UK, Reynolds said: “I don’t think it’s a credible position to take that we can continue with freedom of movement or have a second referendum on this.
He added: “We can’t be sitting around sulking about the result of the referendum. That’s not going to be good for Labour; that’s not going to be good for the country.”
With huge parts of traditional Labour voting areas backing Leave, including Reynolds’ own constituency, the party is struggling to put together a coherent post-Brexit plan.
Tottenham MP David Lammy believes Parliament should block the decision, while leadership contender Owen Smith is calling for a second referendum once the Brexit deal is known.
Reynolds is clear that freedom of movement has to go, even if that means quitting the Single Market.
He said: “Anyone who spent a lot of time talking to people in the EU referendum, particularly in a constituency like mine, cannot fail to appreciate how strongly people feel about freedom of movement and why, whatever the economic advantages and disadvantages of leaving the Single Market, they are frankly not willing to even engage in that conversation unless there is a recognition of their concerns about that.
“And that’s not always about personal impact on wages or personal impact on their community it is about a concern about what is, frankly, a record level of immigration to the UK and concerns about our ability as a nation to absorb that scale of immigration.
“And yes there was in the referendum a considerable amount of racism and clearly an increase in hate crimes and that is unacceptable but we cannot say that everyone who has a concern about immigration was behaving in that way because that is simply not true.
“I cannot accept a view I sometimes hear from other politicians and people in the media this idea that everyone who has a concern about immigration in my constituency is somehow a person with racist tendencies or leanings and I know that from my constituency and I think we have to acknowledge that.”
Reynolds claimed Labour politicians had in the past been too fearful to discuss freedom of movement reform out of fear of “giving an inch to the kind of racial dog-whistling politics which is a component of Ukip.”
He added: “That has led us to just dismiss genuine concerns, and also we’ve tried to win arguments on immigration by asking people to look at the data on the impact on wages or to give them statistical information from the census and that’s not how you win an argument on it.
“People who have a genuine emotional concern about the scale of immigration want to see that addressed.”
Despite campaigning for Remain, Reynolds now believes that Brexit will allow the UK to stop “a number of things we’ve gone along with as we were part of the EU which frankly we’re not that keen on” - citing agricultural subsidies as one example.
Reynolds is keen to emphasis that an end to freedom of movement does not mean an end to immigration, but believes the country needs to address the reason why migration is so high.
He said: “It will take time to address the skills shortages and to get the skill system aligned to reduce that level of immigration, but it has to be possible.”
A spokesman for Jeremy Corbyn said the Labour leader believes that “if freedom of movement means the freedom to exploit cheap labour in a race to the bottom, it will never be accepted in any future relationship with Europe.”
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