Free movement of people will end after Britain leaves the European Union, Jeremy Corbyn has said, as he vowed a Labour government would implement a “managed” and “fair” migration system if elected in four weeks’ time.
It comes after the party leader risked confusion over Labour’s immigration policy earlier this year after apparently backing free movement – one of the EU’s “four freedoms” – just hours before giving a speech in which he was due to say his party was not “wedded” to the principle.
But when asked by ITV’s Julie Etchingham what controls a Labour government would implement on immigration, Mr Corbyn said there would “fair” immigration but refused to be drawn on specific numbers.
“I’m not going to put any figures on it,” he added. “Theresa May has done that for, this is now the third general election she has promised figures none of which she’s come anywhere near achieving.”
Pressed further as to whether there would be controls on migration, Mr Corbyn added: “Clearly the free movement ends when we leave the European Union but there will be managed migration and it will be fair.”
In Labour’s draft manifesto, which was leaked to journalists on Thursday, it appears the party believes it can retain the benefits of the single market and the customs union while ending free movement. They are “essential for maintaining industries, jobs and businesses in Britain” the party’s policy document states.
But the stance seems incompatible with the insistence from EU leaders that access to the tariff-free market requires a member state to honour the EU’s four freedoms – labour, capital, services and goods. These are non-negotiable, the leaders have said.
While Theresa May has made clear her priority in the Brexit negotiations is to regain control of immigration and borders, recommitting to the pledge of bringing down numbers to the “tens of thousands”, Mr Corbyn has repeatedly said Labour’s priority is access to the bloc’s single market.
In the first of ITV’s 30-minute interviews with the leaders of major political parties, due to be aired on Monday evening, Mr Corbyn was also asked whether the general election could be the death of the Labour party.
“The Labour party has its largest membership ever since I became the leader of this party,” he replied. “It’s active in every single part of the country. We’ve had the most unbelievable torrents of media attacks on individuals and a failure to engage in the policy debate.
“This country cannot go on with its levels of inequality, you have to challenge the austerity programme. That is exactly what we are doing.”
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