Tensions over immigration could “explode” into riots, Labour MP Rachel Reeves warned today as she described her constituency as a “tinder box”.
The Leeds West MP gave the prediction as she urged her party to listen to people’s concerns over immigration.
Reeves is one of a number of Labour MPs in the past few weeks to call for freedom of movement to be scrapped as part of any Brexit deal between the EU and the UK.
She said that claims she was “Red Ukip” for calling for the change were “really insulting.”
After speaking about the economic impact of the Brexit negotiations at a fringe meeting at Labour conference this afternoon, Reeves said: “The other reason we have got to get this right is because there are bubbling tensions in this country that I just think could explode.
“You had those riots in 2011, the riots didn’t happen in Leeds and in my constituency, but if riots started again in Leeds and bits of my constituency – it’s like a tinder box.”
Reeves said that since the referendum there had been “three racist attacks” in her constituency – one of which left a Polish man in hospital.
She added: “The trouble is I’m just not surprised and if we don’t get this right in terms of this response, and getting the balance right in terms of the renegotiation but also the deeper seated problems, these sort of things are just going to get worse.
“I worry about the economy and getting the deal right and all the rest of it, but I worry about the divisions in our society. Of course the referendum unleashed some of these feelings, but they are deeper seated as well.”
Her comments echo those made by former Ukip leader Nigel Farage in the run up to the referendum in June.
The MEP said violence on the streets could be the “next step” if immigration is not controlled.
The Ukip leader told the BBC said it was “difficult to contemplate” it happening in Britain, but added “nothing is impossible”.
“It’s legitimate to say that if people feel they’ve lost control completely, and we have lost control of our borders completely as members of the EU, and if people feel voting doesn’t change anything, then violence is the next step,” he said.
While Reeves and a growing number of her colleagues want the current free movement rules to be axed, other Labour MPs are defending the principle.
This morning Shadow Health Secretary Diane Abbott told delegates that “an end to freedom of movement could be a disaster for the NHS.”
Reeves argued that most people recognise that Britain has benefited from immigration and that “most people who come to this country put in more than they take out.”
She added: “But they still have concerns, and they are legitimate concerns and we have to talk about them openly and frankly. A former MP said a couple of days ago that myself and a couple of other MPs were now Red Ukip and that was really insulting. I am Labour, I love this party and I love this movement.
Reeves ended with a warning to Labour activists: “If we just say that people are wrong and we want to continue being a member of the European Union and its good for us as a country and those are the facts, we are never going to win an election again and we don’t deserve to.”
Reacting to Reeves’ comments, Lib Dem leader Tim Farron told the HuffPost UK: “The Britain I know is an open, decent and tolerant place. We have always been a beacon of hope for those in need. That is the Liberal outlook of the world.
“People in the progressive wing of politics must not be fanning the flames of division and should be making the case – loudly and clearly - that people are welcome in our communities and make a real positive difference. If people want to walk away from that,that is their call, I won’t.”
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