Ed Miliband pledges tougher line on immigration after past mistakes
Andrew Grice has been Political Editor of The Independent since 1998. He was previously Political Editor of The Sunday Times, where he worked for 10 years, and he has been a Westminster-based journalist since 1982. His column, Inside Politics, appears in The Independent each Saturday.
Wednesday 06 March 2013
Ed Miliband will today toughen his party's policy on immigration by promising that Labour would cut the number of people coming to this country to take low-skilled jobs.
In a party political broadcast devoted to the sensitive issue, Mr Miliband will admit that the previous Labour Government got it "wrong" on immigration and failed to understand people's concerns.
He will announce that, if Labour regains power, English language teaching for migrants would be given greater priority and all state workers in face-to-face contact with the public would have to be able to speak English. Labour would also bring in measures to reduce the UK's "pull factor" for people coming in to take up low-skilled jobs, following criticism that they squeeze out British workers. Yvette Cooper, the shadow Home Secretary, will outline specific proposals in a speech tomorrow.
Labour sources denied that the party was repeating Gordon Brown's ill-fated pledge to ensure "British jobs for British workers", which was undeliverable because of EU law.
Party officials said the broadcast was planned long before last week's Eastleigh by-election in which Labour came fourth and where it was an issue on the doorsteps. "This is an intelligent and balanced approach, not a knee-jerk reaction. Ed has thought long and hard about it," one said. Mr Miliband, who believes that immigration has brought benefits for Britain, will say: "Diversity is good for Britain. But it's got to be made to work for all and not just for some."
In an admission that the previous Labour Government hugely underestimated the number of migrants from Eastern Europe, Mr Miliband will say: "One of the things we didn't get right was immigration and that's why I've got a new approach. Millions are concerned about immigration and if people are concerned, then the Labour Party I lead is going to be talking about it."
Immigration was discussed yesterday by Conservative ministers in a "political Cabinet" without Liberal Democrats or civil servants present. The Tories digested their disappointing third place in Eastleigh and how to combat Ukip, who came second.
Iain Duncan Smith, the Work and Pensions Secretary, told MPs that the Government faced a "crisis" over how to respond to a possible influx of people from Romania and Bulgaria when they have the right to work in Britain from next January.
He announced that moves to combat "benefit tourism" could include restricting the right to claim the new universal credit being phased in from this year to streamline the welfare system. He said he was trying to "tighten up dramatically" an "habitual residency test" left by the previous Government that was not "fit for purpose." He disclosed that GPs would be handed strict guidance so they know they can refuse to treat certain migrants who have no right to claim free services on the NHS.
Theresa May, the Home Secretary, faced criticism from Cabinet colleagues over plans to impose new visa restrictions on people coming to the UK from Brazil. Other ministers say the move could undermine David Cameron's plans to boost trade with one of the world's fast-growing economies.
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