POLITICS
12/08/2013 05:06 BST | Updated 12/08/2013 10:48 BST

Chris Bryant Gives Awkward Interview Amid Immigration Row With Tesco And Next

Chris Bryant
PA
Chris Bryant

Read the speech Chris Bryant eventually gaveHERE

Labour's shadow immigration spokesman has rowed back after accusing Tesco and Next of favouring migrant workers.

In an awkward interview on the Today programme, Chris Bryant was challenged over his speech attacking the retail giants, which was briefed to the Sunday Telegraph.

In the leaked excerpts of the speech, Bryant said Tesco had moved its distribution centre to Kent, where a "a large percentage" of staff were "from Eastern bloc".

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He also took aim at "unscrupulous employers" and made reference to some staff being paid below the minimum wage.

But Tesco and Next came out swinging, with the supermarket pointing out it did not have a distribution centre in Kent.

Next said Polish workers were not used to save money, and said it was "deeply disappointed" that Bryant "did not bother to check his facts with the company before releasing his speech."

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And on Monday, Bryant was somewhat less bullish in his views on the companies.

Before the first question had been answered, the Labour man opened his interview by saying: "I fully accept that Next and Tesco indeed often try to go the extra mile".

He added: "The Times says that I call Next and Tesco unscrupulous employers... I do not."

On Tesco's distribution centre in "Kent", he said: "I don't know where Kent got into it ... it was always Essex."

Bryant insisted that both companies had used non UK nationals for two summers in a row "in relatively high numbers".

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With a million young people unemployed, he asked whether labour laws could be better regulated.

"In the fullness of my speech, I make clear that this is not an easy place for many employers," he said.

"Tesco denies that that is what's happening, I think there are various different versions of what has gone on."

The row comes as Labour leader Ed Miliband returns form holiday to criticism over his party's performance.

Senior and backbench MPs have called for a clearer message from the leadership with less than two years to go before the general election.