Tag: Labour

The speech Jeremy Corbyn should make at the start of Brexit negotiations

The speech Jeremy Corbyn should make at the start of Brexit negotiations

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.

Press release

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?”

Positive benefits

“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!”  

Memo to Keir Starmer:  Now is NOT the time to insist that an end to free movement is an essential part of a Brexit deal.

Memo to Keir Starmer: Now is NOT the time to insist that an end to free movement is an essential part of a Brexit deal.

I’ve just been listening to Keir Starmer on BBC World At One talking about Labour’s position on Brexit. It seems that he is clinging to the view that an end to freedom of movement must be part of that package. It is ironic that this view is being maintained in the face of the fact that Labour’s advance was secured by young voters who think that the right to move freely across borders is a very good thing.

It would be helpful if Labour reviewed the new facts that form the political landscape as of this moment in time. I think there are three elements to this:

1. The polls are showing that anti-immigrant standpoints are ceasing to have a role in mobilising opposition moods in the way they had been at other times during the past decade. This is not to say that racism/xenophobia has retired from the scene; rather that the national political mood no longer pivots around these attitudes in quite the same way as it has been doing in the recent past.

2. The long, hard look at the UK economy made necessary after the Brexit vote has helped make the case that workers exercising free movement rights have have helped the sustain a degree of buoyancy as well as the viability of crucial public services. Media reports have been full of stories about threats to UK-based companies, the NHS, the education sector, social care, construction, food industries, hospitality, creative industries, etc, etc if freedom of movement is allowed to go down the pan. Labour ought to be a part of the learning curve which the rest of British society is clearly on, and not stand out against it.

3. Nobody in politics or around the social policy industry has the faintest idea on how a UK immigration policy which meets the needs of the UK economy (to say nothing of being all-square with human rights obligations) would operate. The Home Office continues to operate well below par in terms of functional efficiency even in terms of current responsibilities which are limited to the control of so-called third country nationals. Extending its remit to the millions of EU nationals who cross UK borders promises administrative chaos that would feed into the way our labour and housing markets operate – already burdened with the task of checking immigration status – and also important public services like health and education. Whoever speaks for the Labour home affairs brief in the next Parliament should be asking the most searching questions as to whether an efficient system of control over migration which excludes the principle of a right of free movement is even theoretically possible.

These are powerful arguments for the Labour Party to fundamentally review its current stance, and start finding more opportunities to say that the loss of free movements rights would make it harder to achieve its principal requirement from Brexit – which is that it should be ‘jobs friendly’. It should look to the moods that are dominant among the millennials to amplify this message and work to strengthen the message that a rights-based freedom of movement can continue to exist even after the UK has left the EU.

Labour’s advance: New opportunities for rights-based policies on migration?

Labour’s advance: New opportunities for rights-based policies on migration?

Here are some thoughts on the remarkable advance made by the Labour Party under in the general election and what opportunities might be opening up for rights-based immigration policies.

This usually commanding and highly-vexed issue has played only a small part in the debates and manifestos published by the parties, with a generally uniform clinging to positions reiterated at other elections over the last couple of decades.  The odd frisson of interest showed itself at specific moments, such as when Theresa May re-committed herself to achieve a net migration target of below 100,000, or UKIP proclaiming a preference for a policy limiting the movement of people to one-in/one-out.  But, by and large, the real flashpoints of concern for voters were the state of the NHS, student indebtedness, the housing crisis, and who could be trusted to get the best Brexit deal.

The huge trend which secured for Labour a swing of 9.5%, and gained the party 3.5 million more votes over and above its tally in 2015 swamped most efforts to make control of people movement a vote-determining issue. According to Lord Ashcroft’s post-poll analysis, immigration was not listed amongst the five main issue of concern for Labour voters, and even for those who preferred the Tories as a worry it was so for just 9% of respondents.

Of course there is always the ‘elephant in the room’ argument, which likes to tell us that anxieties about newcomers are bound up in expressions of concern for the state of the NHS or the housing market and only rarely manifest itself as outright migrantophobic comment.  But the tone of public debate in recent times has scarcely encouraged inhibition amongst people who might believe that the reason why they can’t get an appointment to see a GP in under a week is down to all the ‘health tourists’ who are flooding the country.  For the moment it seems plausible to suppose that if people say they are concerned about the state of public services and then go on to vote Labour it is because they have inclined towards that party’s central narrative about austerity rather than wanting to blame migrants.

Bye-bye net migration targets

There has been much proclaiming that the Labour Party’s advance, and the Tory Party’s miserable condition, has meant that a ‘hard Brexit’ has been ditched, or that austerity has been brought to a crashing end.  Let’s hope so.  I’d also like to propose that all talk of pushing down net migration to meaningless figures that have no relation to the state of the economy is also declared a victim of the Labour surge.  Perhaps we will also see an end to the efforts of the university lobby to split what ought to be a united front in support of migrants by claiming that international students should be taken out the totals because they are not really migrants.  This was always a weak argument (they certainly do add to aggregate demand for accommodation, health services, public transport and other infrastructure costs) and those standing up for the rights of refugees, family and economic migrants should have been prepared to say so.

The Labour opposition* is now in a good position to push back against many aspects of the Conservative programme for government across a whole range of issues – from the inane Brexit mantra of ‘no deal is better than a bad deal’ right the way to the Naylor Review’s plan to flog off large chucks of the NHS, and the stupid scheme to lumber the education system with a new generation of extravagantly wasteful grammar schools.  Is there a place for a radical stance on the rights of migrants in this project?  Here’s my take on how that might happen.

Firstly, there is the question of securing the bottom line for the rights of migrants.  We know what the that involves – the demands have been spelt out by the solidarity groups on many occasions.  In this category the following issues are to the forefront:

  • Ending indefinite detention of people alleged to be in breach of immigration regulations.
  • Allow asylum seekers to take work earlier in the application process.
  • Permit access to public funds benefits for all migrants in categories that lead to permanent settlement, especially those with responsibility as carers of children.
  • Scrap the excessively high income requirement for the sponsorship of family members.
  • Grant secure residence status to all migrants who have been victims of exploitation and abuse.

Labour has committed itself to versions of all these ‘asks’ during the course of its work in Parliament or in the text of its election manifesto in any event and there should be no obstacle to their rapid adoption as a plank in the platform of the re-invigorated Parliamentary opposition.

A second category forms around challenges to the pernicious effect of the clauses of the last two Immigration Acts, of 2014 and 2016.  Labour should call for the return of an effective right of appeal against all decisions of immigration enforcement officials that have the effect of refusing entry to would-be migrants or visitors, or curtailing the right of residence of people already in the country.  A national, publicly-funded appeal representation service should be re-established to assist people wishing to challenge negative decisions with the process.

In addition, challenging the Tory flagship legislation on immigration control will also mean ditching all its efforts to turn civil society agents – employers, landlords, banks, etc – into immigration officials.  Local authorities, GPs, hospitals and schools and universities should likewise relieved of their current obligations to report to the Home Office on whatever immigrants they come into contact with in their provision of public services.

Brexit:  Re-state the case for free movement

Lastly, there is the immigration agenda that revolves around the Brexit process. Labour is already committed to providing a secure residence status to all EU nationals already in the country and it doubtless continue to press the government on this issue.  But the party did disappoint many people by its opaque perspective on the future of free movement rights in general which have been spelt out over the period since the June referendum and which were reiterated in its election manifesto.

Contrary to what was stated there, it is not obvious that the right of free movement comes to an end as soon as the UK leaves the EU.  A ‘soft’ Brexit, which would involve retaining a link to the single market through membership of the European Economic Area, would also require maintaining a right to freedom of movement.  Even a loser association agreement along the lines to the arrangements with Switzerland still requires the right of citizens to movement across borders to remain in place.

From its new vantage point of being an opposition with the momentum of public popularity behind it Labour should be planning to hang like a hawk over the Article 50 Brexit negotiations, ready to swoop against any demand coming from any side which is not in the interests of the millions of voters who are now aligning themselves with its pro-people, pro-human rights cause.  That must include resisting any retreat from the current position whereby any British citizen has the right to live, work and study on any other EU state, and any EU citizen have the same right in the UK.

Speaking up for the rights of people to move freely no longer looks like a cause for losers, as might have been thought when the Remain side lost the referendum last year.  Thinking voters have been obliged to confront the implications of the loss of these rights since then, in the form of British young people saying goodbye to the opportunities to live abroad which they appear to value, and also with the exodus of valued workers from important public services like healthcare and education, right through to those in less prestigious occupations which nevertheless have helped maintain some level of prosperity across Britain in what have otherwise been very lean years.

The case is there to be made that the swirl of people crossing frontiers to improve job prospects, advance careers, and generally have a better life is something that happens when people feel empowered, viewing themselves as having positive assets in the form of their willingness to work, pay taxes, and generally contribute to the new communities they want to join.  The use of visa and border controls to counter this wish to be a part of the modern world in which people move between countries runs against this sense of what it means to be free in the twenty-first century.  No party that claims to represent the interests of ordinary people should willingly go in that direction.

These are exciting times as far as politics and the potential for change are concerned.  If Labour plays its hand right we can bring an end to decades of efforts to implement ill-considered, inept immigration control policies and widen the space in which all people can act on the assurance they have secure rights.  Further, Jeremy Corbyn has the chance to advance this progressive, pro-working class programme in the context of a broader assault on austerity and the long, weary dominance of neoliberal economic policies.  Let’s hope he and his comrades in Parliament seize the opportunity and make every use of it.

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* I have to say that I am no enthusiast for the idea that Jeremy Corbyn should accept any invitation by the Queen to form a minority government on the basis of this election result.  Still scores of seats short of a majority and with a Parliamentary party that still harbours too many who resent the idea of leadership from the left, Corbyn would be prey to ambushes and intrigues which would risk bringing his project for a revival of radical democratic socialism to a crashing end, producing mass disillusion amongst those who have been recruited to the cause.  Better to let a shattered and demoralised Tory government twist in the wind for a short while longer, whilst discipline and order is reintroduced into party ranks, and momentum built up for a fresh election campaign aimed at securing a clear majority.