- Former Momentum treasurer tells Business Insider that Jeremy Corbyn does not believe in ending free movement, despite the Labour leader’s recent comments.
- Michael Chessum claims Corbyn did not support the tougher immigration policies included in Labour’s general election manifesto.
- Chessum expects motion calling for Labour to support free movement to be passed at the party conference next month because the “left of the party” will take over.
LONDON — Labour leader Jeremy Corbyn believes neither in ending free movement or the tougher immigration proposals included in the party’s election manifesto, a former leading figure in Momentum has claimed in an interview with Business Insider.
Michael Chessum, who up until earlier this year served as treasurer for the pro-Corbyn campaign group, told BI this week: “I don’t think that Corbyn and [shadow chancellor] John McDonnell will want to make the case for ending free movement because I don’t think they believe in it.”
This is despite Corbyn saying during the general election campaign that a Labour government would end the free movement of people as part of Brexit. “Clearly the free movement ends when we leave the European Union but there will be managed migration and it will be fair,” the Labour leader told ITV in May.
Corbyn reiterated this position last month, telling the BBC’s Andrew Marr that Labour would allow European workers to stay in Britain, but “what there wouldn’t be is the wholesale importation of underpaid workers from central Europe in order to destroy conditions, particularly in the construction industry.”
Chessum also claimed that the Labour leader does not support some of the tougher immigration policies included in the party’s election manifesto, saying “don’t believe for a moment that’s what Corbyn thinks.”
The Labour activist was referring to the Labour Party’s manifesto pledge to “replace income thresholds with a prohibition on recourse to public funds,” which in practice would make it harder for migrants to have access to aspects of the welfare state, such as social housing.
He went on to claim that Corbyn has been forced to “compromise” with the “right” of the Labour Party on the issue of immigration, particularly on the free movement of people which “bits of the old Labour right” want to end.
“That’s a compromise with the right, that’s a compromise with people who still want to triangulate and lean towards what they perceive to be the centre ground.
“Labour has a dreadful record on immigration, invented some of the nastiest asylum rules in British history, it’s dreadful and those people are still knocking around in the Labour party,” he added.
“The left of the party will come into power”
Chessum is spearheading a campaign to pressure the Labour leadership into supporting the continuation of the free movement of people.
The Labour Campaign for Free Movement was launched last Friday and has already had more than 2000 backers including Labour MP Clive Lewis and writer Owen Jones. Its aim is to be an organisation “defending and extending the free movement of people in the context of the debate around Brexit.”
Describing the group so far as “really, really successful,” Chessum said that Labour should “hammer free movement and talk about free movement for its own sake, and not in a single market framework and really win that argument.
“Corbyn has a great record on this in history and the campaign he ran was very heavy on defending migration, defending immigrants in terms of its tone. But if that’s not reflected in policy then actually you essentially reach the same conclusion and we need a clear narrative on who is to blame for declining living standards,” he said.
The Labour activist told BI that rather than saying migrants are to blame for declining living standards, Labour should make it clear it is “governments, it’s neoliberalism, it is not Polish plumbers and people working on building sites or people picking strawberries.”
The Labour Campaign for Free Movement will be tabling motions at the party’s September conference in Brighton, which Chessum thinks will pass.
He said: “The left of the party will come into power effectively at this conference…the centrists are sort of standing down because they have lost their moral authority.”
Chessum said that he also thinks that Labour is still on course to win the next election: “I think that in a lot of ways it’s ours to lose now because there’s so much that could go wrong in a minority administration.”
Speaking about the election, in which Labour gained thirty seats he said: “It was an enormous achievement, it was like 1983 in reverse. Radical ideas and the left are electable and we’ve just shown it, and there’s no going back from that.”
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