Labour is under pressure to condemn the leaked Home Office plan to deter EU migrants after the party refused to criticise the proposals for tougher restrictions and fingerprinting of new arrivals after Brexit.
A number of Labour MPs broke ranks to express dismay at the leaked paper, but the party’s leadership would only say it would judge the proposals if and when they become government policy.
Among those criticising the leaked paper was Clive Lewis, an ally of Jeremy Corbyn and former shadow cabinet minister, who said the document was “another stomach blow” for EU migrants.
“It will make people feel insecure and second-class citizens because the document is talking about fewer rights for EU migrants. There is now going to be a class of people in this country that will need ID cards and to hand over biometric data. This feels to me like a slippery slope,” he told the Guardian.
Lewis said he understood all the reasons why some Labour MPs had to reflect the views of their leave-voting constituents, but added that the argument in favour of immigration could be won in the same way the mood had changed on austerity.
“We as a party have to begin to engage and say there is a better way. Putting up the barriers in a globally interconnected world with our closest European counterparts is only going to hurt our voters, supporters and communities,” he said.
Steve Reed, a shadow minister for civil society and the Croydon North MP, was one of the few frontbenchers to speak on the issue, saying the government’s leaked post-Brexit immigration plans “would damage London’s economy, reduce chances of a good deal with the EU, and harm families”.
Earlier, Sadiq Khan, the London mayor, described the proposals as a “blueprint on how to strangle our economy” as well as being “wrong for London and for Britain”.
Pressure also came from the Labour Party Campaign for Free Movement, supported by a number of MPs and MEPs as well as grassroots activists, which said the leaked policies would “tear families apart, and demonstrate just how far the Conservative party are committed to using Brexit to promote their own anti-migrant and anti-worker agenda”.
Diane Abbott, the shadow home secretary, has traditionally stood up for the benefits of immigration, and retweeted an article headlined with a comment by her Labour colleague Alison McGovern saying: “This leaked document is part & parcel of a mean & cynical approach already deterring people from coming here.” However, she has not yet expanded further on Labour’s position, which holds fire on passing judgment.
One senior party source said the shadow cabinet and leadership were having sensitive discussions on how to respond to the leaked document.
The source said: “The story broke and Jeremy’s office is still discussing it. We are being very careful. Immigration is obviously a difficult issue. We want managed migration, most of the unions want managed migration, most of our voters want managed migration.
“And so we have to carefully sort out our position. Given that we have decided to try to amend and almost certainly vote against the repeal bill, we have to be careful about the optics.”
Corbyn’s spokesman, asked about whether Labour disagreed with the proposals outlined in the paper, said: “These are obviously not proposals that have been endorsed by the government and ministers, and Diane Abbott said last night that when, if, they come up with actual proposals, we’ll address those on the basis of what our priorities are.”
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