Labour’s Deputy Leader today joined the growing chorus of MPs calling for tighter immigration controls as he put himself at odds with the party leadership.
Tom Watson insisted the UK needs “control over its own borders” as part of any Brexit deal with the European Union as he called for an end to freedom of movement.
The West Bromwich East MP warned Labour had no chance of winning the next General Election if it did not address people’s “genuine concerns” about immigration.
His comments chime with an increasing number of Labour MPs who are calling for, at the very least, reform of freedom of movement – including Chuka Umunna, Stephen Kinnock and Emma Reynolds.
Labour leader Jeremy Corbyn has repeatedly insisted there should be no upper limit to immigration, and in September his spokesman said: “It is not an objective to reduce the numbers.”
Speaking on Sophy Ridge on Sunday today, Watson struggled to sum up Labour’s current policy on immigration, and said: “We don’t know what is going to come out of the Brexit settlement…we don’t know what the Government position is.”
When told that Prime Minister Theresa May had identified immigration control as a “red line” in a Brexit deal, Watson went on: “I want her [May] to be able to say that this country will have control over its own borders, that we’ll be able to count the number of people in and count the number of people out and make sure there is a fair solution to people’s genuine concerns about immigration are addressed.
“That is one of the challenges Labour will have in its manifesto whenever that election comes and if we don’t address that issue then Labour won’t win that election, I’m very clear about that.”
Watson’s comments come as Labour MPs Stephen Kinnock and Emma Reynolds today warned the party’s “mixed messages” on immigration were “deeply corrosive” of voters’ trust.
In an article for the Observer, the duo called for a two-tier immigration system, in which skilled migrants, such as doctors and teachers, who would be allowed into the country to take specific jobs.
The second tier would include low and semi-skilled workers from the agriculture, retail and construction industries, who would be limited by quotas agreed by the Government, industry and trade unions.
The MPs wrote: “The debate about how best to deal with immigration in the wake of the referendum has also driven the Labour party to an existential fork in the road.
“We can either resist any call for reform and drift away from relevance, or we can rediscover the courage of our convictions, and demonstrate that we are ready to reunite the country with a progressive, fair and managed migration system that works for all.”