Labour set for conference 'row' over whether it should support the free movement of people

  • Labour set for “row” over immigration at party conference in Brighton this month.
  • Activists from across the party want Jeremy Corbyn to back continuing the free movement of people after Britain leaves the EU.
  • Corbyn has previously said a Labour government would end free movement.
  • Emergency motion calling for Labour to support free movement set to receive huge backing.

LONDON — Labour is set for a debate over immigration at the party’s autumn conference amid growing pressure on its leadership to back the continuation of the free movement of people after Brexit.

Michael Chessum, who runs the Labour Campaign for Free Movement, has urged the party to “have an argument” with its voters about the benefits migrants bring to Britain, adding he is “optimistic” that Labour’s policy could be changed to back free movement of people at the annual conference in Brighton this month.

Several local constituency parties have supported an emergency confidence motion asking leader Jeremy Corbyn to “maintain and extend free movement” from the European Union after Brexit, the HuffPostUK reports.

The “contemporary resolution” motion, tabled by Young Labour and a number of a Constituency Labour Parties, says a Labour government “should maintain and extend free movement” after Britain leaves the EU.

The motion also says: “Free movement benefits all workers. Without it, only the rich and privileged can live and travel where they want, while migrant workers are more vulnerable to hyper-exploitation, making downward pressure on wages more likely. Limiting free movement further would damage the economy and hit living standards.”

It was formally agreed by Young Labour at a meeting on Tuesday night, which means it is guaranteed to be debated on the conference floor. It is set to receive support from activists from across the party spectrum, the HuffPostUK adds.

This follows leaked government plans showing Prime Minister Theresa May intends to end freedom of movement immediately after Brexit and replace it with restrictive immigration laws which target low-paid migrants most.

Labour said in its general election manifesto that the free movement of people will end when Britain leaves the EU but activists are hopeful that Corbyn will perform a U-turn on the issue as Labour positions itself as the party of soft Brexit.

Chessum told Business Insider in August that he thinks Corbyn does not “believe” in ending free movement, and that he does not think he or Chancellor John McDonnell will want to make the case for the policy.

Labour Campaign for Free Movement

The Labour Campaign for Free Movement has over 2000 signatories including Labour MPs Clive Lewis and David Lammy and writer Owen Jones. It will be formally launched next week.

It is also supported by members of Labour’s National Executive Committee alongside trade union bosses including the TSSA general secretary Manuel Cortes and BFAWU general secretary Ronnie Draper.

Cortes said on Wednesday: “The xenophobic toxicity stoked by the Tory Brexit referendum is being received by our EU neighbours as a ‘Not welcome here’ sign around Britain.

“Labour must lead the opposition to the Tories on Brexit, defend the freedom of movement on which our economy depends and cut this tightening noose from around our country’s neck.”

An NEC source told HuffPost UK: “The biggest row at conference will probably be over free movement, not internal selection rules.

“Lots of members want to keep it but it would present electoral challenges and would go against our manifesto.”

We have to “have an argument” with voters

Chessum, who up until earlier this year served as treasurer of Momentum, said that Labour would have to challenge Labour voters who have “legitimate concerns” about immigration.

He said: “In some instances, that will mean that we in Labour have to go out and have an argument with our own voters; to convince them that ‘no, migration is not the problem here, the problem is austerity, government policy, and the economic system’.

“We will have to go out and have an argument, but we are the Labour movement. If we can’t have arguments with working class people about what the real solutions are in society, what’s the point in us existing?”

Chessum told BI 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.

However, 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.”

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