Labour will not “die in a ditch” to protect EU freedom of movement laws, the Shadow Foreign Secretary confirmed today amid confusion over the party’s immigration stance.
Speaking on ITV’s Peston on Sunday this morning, Emily Thornberry adopted a relaxed attitude about free movement coming to an end as part of a so-called ‘hard Brexit’.
Her position was slightly clearer than that put forward by Labour leader Jeremy Corbyn minutes earlier, who appeared to offer support for maintaining the current system.
The muddled message comes days after Corbyn rowed back on own his pre-briefed speech on the issue and adopted a softer stance on whether Labour wanted to keep free movement as a point of principle.
Speaking this morning, Thornberry said: “We’re not going to die in a ditch about it, it’s up for negotiation, but Labour’s principle has always been that the economy is the most important thing.”
Just minutes earlier on the BBC’s Andrew Marr Show, Corbyn also acknowledged free movement was up for “negotiation”, but placed his focus on “ending the grotesque levels of exploitation and the undercutting that goes on.”
He added: “Let’s not blame migrants for the problems that we have.”
Corbyn refused to accept the current levels of EU migration to the UK were to high, and said a Brexit deal with Brussels “will involve people from Europe working here just as much as there are 2million British people living and working in the European Union.
“Are we going to cut ourselves from Europe completely? I don’t think so.”
On Tuesday, Corbyn caused confusion around Labour’s immigration policy when he amended a pre-briefed speech on Brexit.
The Labour had been due to tell an audience in Peterborough that: “Labour is not wedded to freedom of movement for EU citizens as a point of principle.”
However, when it came to the actual speech, he added: “But I don’t want that to be misinterpreted, nor do we rule it out.”
In a series of interviews ahead of the speech, Corbyn said he did not believe current immigration levels were too high - a position contradicted by Labour’s Shadow Immigration Minister Debbie Abrahams on Wednesday.