Jezza’s stunning advance in the election campaign has placed him in a commanding position to dictate the terms of the political agenda. What he says and does during the course of the Brexit negotiations is his next big challenge.
It is time to tackle the ambiguity around some of the positions that have come out from his front bench over the course of the last few months. He should aim to give real heart to Labour’s new and returning supporters by combining his anti-austerity message with the a clear statement of support for the important right of freedom of movement.
Here’s my take on the speech he should give to declare his intention to really shift the debate on Brexit.
Date: (Before time runs out…)
Labour will not make the ending of free movement a pre-condition for the best deal on Brexit
“The Labour Party, like everyone else, has been facing up to the challenges that will confront our country as the business of negotiating our departure from the European Union gets underway.
“We have made it clear that we will fight for a Brexit that protects jobs and the public services which together make up the standard of life of our citizens, and also reinforce the sense that we live in communities in which everyone works for each other.
“How do we now plan for our exit of the EU in a way which will not do damage to all the things we value in our society, as well as the degree of prosperity we have achieved from being a member of the world’s largest trading bloc?”
“Labour has always recognised that immigration has been a big part of the positive side of life in Britain, helping to strengthen the country by bringing in skills and an aptitude for work which we have always seen from newcomers, from the Huguenots, to the post-war Commonwealth citizens, right through to the EU nationals of today: all those who have made their homes here.
“Contrary to the claims of migration’s opponents, immigration has helped maintained the buoyancy of the UK economy, particularly in recent very challenging years, helping hundreds of thousands of businesses remain viable so that they can support the high levels of employment we have enjoyed, even during the worst years of the downturn.
“Claims are made that it has depressed wage levels. Yet we know these have been held back most severely in parts of the country where immigration not taken place on any large scale. The over-long, too-weak recovery from the Great Recession of 2008-12 is the most obvious reason why wage earners in Britain are experiencing real pressure on their stand of living.
“It is also said that immigrants are responsible for the declining state of our public services, with healthcare and education being cited as examples.
“I will now say that Labour categorically refutes this accusation. As we now know from reports of a 96% fall in the number of nurses from the EU countries being recruited to work in the NHS, and that fact that one-third of those already here are considering returning abroad because of the uncertainty that has been created about their long-term residents’ rights, the real danger lies in fact that immigration will cease to bring these much-needed workers into our hospitals and clinics.
“The same can be said about our schools and universities. In parts of the country which have received most immigrants in recent times we have seen educational standards rising to their highest points. One in six of our school teachers across the UK were born in other countries. The government has been failing to meet targets to recruit and retain teachers from domestic sources for several years now, and this has resulted in higher recruitment of much-valued entrants into the profession from abroad”.
Concerns of business and the trade unions
“I have had the opportunity to travel the length and breadth of the country since my election as Labour leader in 2015. During this time I have spoken to the owners of businesses operating in IT and the creative industries, social care, hospitality, construction, food production and many others, as well the people running our great public services. They all tell me that Britain must remain an open and friendly place for workers from other countries if they are to continue to provide opportunities for decent jobs both for the newcomers and, crucially, for those UK-born citizens who continue to benefit from an economy generating work for all.
“I have spoken to the trade unions and am aware of their concerns about the higher risks of exploitation that have emerged in recent times as a result of poor regulation of the jobs market and, in some instances, because of EU measures regarding the agencies and the posting of overseas staff.
“We understand these concerns and we are determined to address them. A Labour government will favour industry-wide collective bargaining. The agreed rate for the job will apply to all, whether UK citizen or newly-arrived migrant worker on a temporary contract. There will be no need to fear the under-cutting of agreed wage rates and employment conditions once these measures are in place.”
Regional policies with the powers to deal with impacts
“People have said that there has not been a problem with migration as such, but rather with the fact that there has been too much over too short a period of time. Yet even this is contradicted by the fact that the parts of the country with some of the highest levels of newcomers are reporting the least negative views about the impacts of migration.
“We accept that there are places where, because industries have expanded in relatively short periods of time, that the arrival of workers to fill the job vacancies has brought about stresses and strains. Labour will deal with this by instigating regional planning policies which ensure that economic growth that brings in new workers will go hand-in-hand with investment in housing, publics services, including healthcare, schools and public transport. We will ensure that local government in these districts will be sufficiently well-resourced to support community inclusion programmes, including English language classes and activities to promote contact and bridge-building across communities.”
Social justice and fairness
“Labour’s approach to immigration is part and parcel of our approach to social justice and human rights. I have spoken of workers and wage-earners up until now because we know that is the biggest reason why people come to Britain. But we reject the idea that people can be reduced to commodities, to be used and discarded when their work is done.
“Our politics for immigration include support for the families that the newcomers will be raising. When action and policies are needed on our part to help redress hardship and suffering, particularly that which has been experienced by refugees, migrants with disabilities, and other vulnerable groups, then Labour will ensure that an active and energised civil society is in a position to provide it.
“We are also aware that the opportunity to move beyond borders is a vital part of the outlook of a rising generation of young people who are now making their impression on the shape and direction of our democratic politics. They will not forgive us if the advantages that have been enjoyed by their parents and grandparents, to live, study, work and settle in other places are withheld from them. They will not be by any Labour government.
“Labour is confident in its firm view that migration has and will continue to benefit us all. We expect that it will play a part in the plans of businesses and communities to forge ahead in the future. We see no issues on the agenda that cannot be addressed by a positive and inclusive approach. We believe that British citizens are reaching out for this future and this viewpoint becomes a majority as we move into the millennial generation.
“It is for this reason that I can say, as negotiations begin with our European friends for the best possible Brexit deal, that Labour will not make an end to the freedom of movement that has prevailed for so long a pre-condition for any deal which will carry us forward into our future partnership.
“There is much to consider in the matters of our future relationship with the single market and the customs union, but on this point it should be clear: freedom of movement between our countries can and should be preserved into the post-Brexit future!”