The Labour Party must be open to supporting the ending of current EU freedom of movement rules, the shadow Brexit Secretary has said.
Keir Starmer, a former Director of Public Prosecutions, said he believed immigration was too high and that people were “understandably” concerned about its effects.
The newly appointed shadow minister made the comments on Sunday, putting him at odds with past statements by Jeremy Corbyn in defence of free movement.
He blamed a skills shortage for high immigration and said the best way to reduce it overall would be to increase training of young people born in Britain. But he also said the party should support “adjustments” to free movement rules.
Mr Starmer however warned that the Conservatives had struck “the wrong tone” when it came to immigration, and that migrants themselves were not to blame for anxieties about the issue.
The warning came after the Government U-turned on plans to force firms to list foreign employees that could see companies “shamed” for employing too low a proportion of British people.
“There’s been a huge amount of immigration over the last 10 years and people are understandably concerned about it,” Mr Starmer told the BBC’s Andrew Marr Show.
“I think it should be reduced and it should be reduce by making sure that we’ve got the skills in this country that are needed for the job that needs to be done.
“As I went around the country one thing was absolutely clear: there is a skills shortage. This is a failure of government, it’s got nothing to do with immigrants that get blamed.
“We have to be open to adjustments of the freedom of movement rules and how they apply in this country. I accept that freedom of movement was a major issue in the referendum but nobody, no matter how they voted, voted for the Government to take an axe to the economy.”
Theresa May has said freedom of movement will end but not said what will be put in its place. She has however ruled out an Australian-style points-based immigration system.
Mr Starmer’s approach to bringing down immigration numbers is in contrast to Jeremy Corbyn’s. Mr Corbyn has previously said he does not think there is too much immigration.
“A Labour government will not offer false promises. We will not sow division or fan the flames of fear. We will instead tackle the real issues of immigration – and make the changes that are needed,” he told Labour’s annual party conference in Liverpool two weeks ago.
Mr Starmer also used the interview to call for MPs to be given a parliamentary vote on Theresa May’s negotiating position.
He accused her of dodging accountability and scrutiny on the matter.
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