Labour chiefs in disarray over free movement as campaign chief says it could continue

Labour chiefs in disarray over free movement as campaign chief says it could continue despite 2017 election pledge to end it

Free movement could continue under Labour‘s plans, the party‘s campaign chief said yesterday – despite a 2017 election pledge to end it.

Andrew Gwynne said Labour would seek to negotiate ‘bespoke reciprocal arrangements‘ that would allow people to continue travelling freely between Britain and the EU.

In 2017, Labour pledged to end free movement in a bid to shore up support in Leave-voting seats. But at the party‘s annual conference in September, delegates voted to ‘maintain and extend free movement‘ regardless of whether Britain left the EU.

Mr Gwynne yesterday indicated that a battle was still raging within Labour‘s high command about whether to reverse the party‘s 2017 position and back the continuation of free movement in all circumstances.

Speaking on the ‘s Andrew Marr Show, Mr Gwynne was unable to say whether the new policy would be translated into Labour‘s manifesto, which is due to be published in the next ten days. Asked directly if Labour was still committed to ending free movement, he said: ‘I‘ll be able to answer that more clearly this time next week. I‘ve not seen a draft of the manifesto‘

Last week, Jeremy Corbyn indicated that he wanted free movement to continue, telling an audience in Telford, Shropshire: ‘There has to be that movement of people. I want our young people to be brought up in a world where they can travel, they can experience other societies, they can make their contribution there.

‘And you know what? That enriches their lives and enriches the lives of all of us. I want to make sure that all those EU nationals do remain here, can come here, will stay here.‘

Home Secretary Priti Patel said Mr Gwynne‘s comments demonstrated that Labour could not be trusted to bring immigration under control. She added: ‘For the second time in a week, Corbyn‘s Labour have confirmed they want to see uncontrolled and unlimited immigration, whatever the results of the two chaotic referendums they want to hold next year.

‘The choice at this election is between a Conservative majority government that will get Brexit done and deliver on the people‘s priorities like controlling immigration, or a weak coalition headed by Corbyn in a gridlocked Parliament that refuses to control immigration.‘

The final decision on whether to support the end of free movement is set to be one of the key battles of Labour‘s manifesto meeting next weekend.

Labour says it will negotiate a new Brexit deal and then put it to a second referendum, although it has been unable to say whether it would back Leave or Remain. If it makes a manifesto commitment to continue free movement, voters in the second referendum would be left without an option to bring immigration from the EU under control.

Shadow Chancellor John McDonnell has said he wants to see ‘as much free movement as possible‘. But Labour candidates in some seats in the Midlands and the North, where the party is being pushed hard by the Tories, fear that a pledge to continue free movement would play badly with Leave voters.

Mr Gwynne, whose Denton and Reddish seat in Greater Manchester voted 61 per cent to 39 per cent to leave in 2016, has previously warned on the need to control immigration, saying: ‘A lot of my constituents voted for Leave because they wanted to end what they saw as people coming from other parts of the EU taking their jobs, lowering their wages and living standards, and I understood those concerns.‘

Yesterday, he insisted that his view had not changed, adding: ‘I absolutely do understand those concerns, and you know the way that you deal with those concerns is that you lift up the playing field so that my constituents benefit.‘

Mr Gwynne indicated that he would like to end up with a policy that stopped short of free movement, saying: ‘I‘ve been very clear, we are looking at reciprocal agreements with the EU 27 that allows British citizens to enjoy some of the freedoms that they will lose as a result of Brexit.‘



Commentary by Richard Walker 

Businesses have had to put up with three and a half years of uncertainty and delay. Brexit dominates everything and has prevented the Government from addressing other important business, environmental and social priorities effectively.

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I hoped last month that Parliament would end the uncertainty by voting through Boris Johnson‘s new deal. Sadly, it became clear that MPs planned to block the deal from passing and, as a result, Brexit remains unresolved and continues to hang over us. 

This means that Iceland and every other UK business is struggling to make plans on how best to invest our resources for future growth, while our customers are naturally being careful with their money.

We all need this uncertainty to end – and to end quickly.

That‘s why I am keen to get Brexit done and move on. The alternative of reopening negotiations then holding another divisive and chaotic referendum would be disastrous for both business and consumer confidence.

There are many issues that matter more to me than Brexit, which the Government could address once we have taken a firm decision on our European future. 

The climate emergency poses a serious threat to the very survival of humanity, and we need to pass and implement an Environment Bill that takes urgent action to cut carbon emissions and plastic pollution.

We need to address the scandal of food waste – and it may not surprise you to learn that I believe that one of the best ways to do this is by buying more frozen food. This not only reduces wastage throughout the supply chain and in the home, but also saves consumers money.

The British high street is a vital resource and we will all be poorer in many ways if we allow it to wither away. The Government could help by levelling the playing field so that bricks and mortar retailers can also trade when they want, and by shifting a fairer share of the tax burden on to online businesses through a comprehensive reform of business rates.

And I would like to see an end to the crippling red tape that adds needless cost and complexity for business – such as the mindboggling pursuit of Iceland over an alleged technical infringement of the minimum wage rules by setting up a savings club for our employees.

There is so much to do and all of it can be delivered only by clearing the logjam and getting Brexit done.

Sajid‘s safe, say Tories

Chancellor Sajid Javid, right, will play a leading role in the Tory election campaign – despite reports he could be axed in favour of his deputy.

Senior Tories dismissed claims of a reshuffle in which the telegenic Treasury chief secretary Rishi Sunak will be promoted.

‘It is nonsense,‘ said one source. ‘Saj and Boris get on well. There are a number of key performers and Saj is one of them – you can expect him to play a key role, supported by Rishi.‘

Boris Johnson‘s deal isn‘t perfect, but he clinched it in record time and against all expectations, and to my mind it fulfils the result of the referendum. We must have closure on Brexit and I hope the country delivers a clear verdict.

I see nothing in what we have heard from Labour so far that suggests they would either get Brexit done, or create an environment in any way friendly to business.

Indeed, Labour‘s Shadow Chancellor displays an alarming animosity to business in general. He has called business ‘the real enemy‘ and said it‘s part of his job description to overthrow capitalism. 

Yet the reason capitalism and free markets have become the dominant model around the world is that no other system has succeeded in raising living standards and prosperity so widely.

Politicians of all parties need to understand that ultimately the funding for the NHS and all the other public services we all value depends on businesses creating jobs, paying salaries, and generating the profits that allow them to invest and pay taxes. Iceland has paid more than £1.5 billion in UK taxes since 2005 and created 1,000 new jobs a year for the past three years.

We would like to do much more of this – and that depends on politicians ending the current uncertainty. We need a decisive, optimistic leader who believes in this country‘s future.

I am not a member of any political party and I am very conscious that there is no upside for a retailer in taking sides in politics because my colleagues and customers have a wide range of views.

So the opinion I express here is personal rather than corporate. But I hope for all our sakes that the forthcoming election gives Boris Johnson the opportunity to get Brexit done in 2020.


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