Labour needs to privately agree its immigration policy before saying anything that could “undermine” its Brexit position, a leading trade unionist has warned.
Former TUC President Liz Snape urged for clarity on the issue the day after Labour leader Jeremy Corbyn appeared to u-turn over whether the party supported an end to freedom of movement rules.
Corbyn also claimed he did not think current immigration levels were too high, yet Labour’s Shadow Work and Pensions Secretary Debbie Abrahams said the party did want to see a drop.
In an interview with Huff Post UK’s Commons People podcast, Snape – who is assistant general secretary of UNISON – said freedom of movement is “an issue with many aspects, and I think there needs to be a clear debate within the party about exactly what we mean by freedom of movement.
She went on: “It’s a very difficult debate to have, but we need to have it, and not until we’ve had that debate should people be making comments that could undermine our eventual position.”
Snape denied her comments were aimed at Corbyn, but was quick to praise Labour’s Shadow Brexit Secretary Keir Starmer as “a man with real strategic thinking and clear thinking”.
She added: “I think we all need to be rowing in behind him and making sure every part of the party is saying the same thing, that we do have a plan, that as soon as we get any information about Article 50 that we’re all doing exactly the same with one plan, with Keir, and that’s the only way we can actually get some input and impact on the Tories.”
Snape’s comments come after a week in which Labour’s policy on freedom of movement has been placed under scrutiny.
On Sunday, Deputy Leader Tom Watson told Sky News it is unfair to expect his party to have a position until the Government sets out its plans for Brexit.
He did, however, call for the UK to have “control over its borders” as part of any deal – suggesting an end to current free movement rules for EU nationals.
On Tuesday, Corbyn amended a key speech on Brexit in a bid to water down suggestions he would abandon his support for keeping free movement.
Speaking to Commons People, Labour’s Shadow Brexit Secretary sought to clarify the party’s position.
Starmer said: “Jeremy said that freedom of movement has to be part of the negotiations and as we exit the EU there will have to be fair immigration rules and reasonable management of migration.”