Shadow home secretary Diane Abbott distances herself from those advocating rethink of Labour’s immigration policy.
Source: The Guardian
Free movement of people should be defended by the left as a workers’ right while the Conservatives adopt anti-foreigner policies that will harm employees, Diane Abbott, the shadow home secretary, has said.
In a fresh argument in favour of supporting free movement, Abbott said workers – both UK nationals and foreign – were likely to be hurt when governments started placing controls on where they could be employed.
In the foreword to a new book, Free Movement and Beyond: Setting the Agenda for Brexit Britain, Abbott said there was a “general law that the labour movement has understood for a long time: an injury to one is an injury to all”.
“The demagogic campaign against foreigners that was first championed by Ukip and is now mainstream Tory policy obscures a key point. It is important to remember that freedom of movement is a workers’ right,” she wrote.
“In all societies where there are significantly greater freedoms for business and for capital than for workers, then in practice workers’ rights are severely curtailed. Business is at a huge advantage. This reaches an extreme in the most authoritarian countries.”
Her comments take a different approach to a number of senior Labour colleagues, as the party grapples with the issue of immigration after Brexit.
Keir Starmer, Labour’s Brexit spokesman, has called for a “fundamental rethink” of free movement, suggesting there could be a distinction between people migrating for jobs and those who come to look for jobs.
Andy Burnham, Labour’s candidate for Greater Manchester mayor, has gone further by arguing the party is wrong to prioritise staying in the single market over controlling immigration and prominent Labour backbenchers including Stephen Kinnock, Emma Reynolds and Rachel Reeves have said the party must be willing to advocate limits on immigration to meet the concerns of its voters, particularly in post-industrial areas.
Abbott’s argument comes two days before Theresa May prepares to trigger article 50 and publish a letter setting out key negotiating approaches towards issues such as immigration and trade.
The shadow home secretary cited England’s historic poor laws and apartheid South Africa as examples of systems that tried to restrict how people could work and travel. “They had to accept whatever jobs, and at whatever wages and terms that the employers in their locality chose. This is one of the key, overlooked issues in the current widespread assault on freedom of movement,” Abbott said.
She said the government’s plan to make doctors trained in the UK work in the NHS for four years was an example of domestic workers suffering as part of a wider reactionary agenda on immigration.
“Attacks on overseas workers always rebound and include regressive measures against domestic workers, too. So, in a futile effort to restrict overseas workers the Tories are also ordering restrictions on workers trained here too, curbing their freedom of movement,” Abbott said.
In a call for action to protect free movement, Abbott said the labour movement must work to defend it against Tory anti-foreigner policies. “Labour under Jeremy and John is committed to investment-led growth. This is the answer to the crisis, not a Tory campaign inspired by Enoch Powell,” she said.
Free Movement and Beyond – Agenda Setting for Brexit Britain
This new book featuring Diane Abbott MP, Yanis Varoufakis, Mary Kaldor and more, is available now from Public Reading Rooms. It draws together the current thinking of many of Britain’s most prominent ‘critical Remainers’ – those who argued to remain within the European Union while seeking its democratic and progressive transformation.