Andy Burnham blasts Labour support for 'discriminatory' free movement of people

Posted On: 
7th December 2016

Andy Burnham has delivered a scathing verdict on Labour’s support for free movement, saying it is “inherently discriminatory” and “undermining the cohesion” of the UK. 

Labour MP Andy Burnham in the House of Commons
BBC iPlayer

The former Labour frontbencher said he was no longer willing to be "complicit" in a policy which he said was damaging working class communities.

His comments put him at odds with Shadow Home Secretary Diane Abbott, who has said Labour should not try to "out-Ukip Ukip" on immigration.

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Mr Burnham, his party's candidate to be mayor of Greater Manchester, spoke out during todays Commons debate on Brexit.

“It is time to move beyond the re-running of the referendum arguments and accept what people are voting for,” he said.

“The 700,000 people in Greater Manchester who voted to leave – many of them lifelong Labour voters – voted for change on immigration. I am quite clear about that and that has to be our starting point in this debate. The status quo, full free movement, was defeated at the ballot box and therefore is not an option.”

Free movement, Mr Burnham said, was “not working for the more deprived parts” of the UK.

“They are places which, alongside new arrivals from the EU, continue to take in the vast majority of the country’s asylum seekers and refugees and largely they do so without any strife or difficulty, so I don’t want to hear anyone claim that people in places like Leigh that voted to leave are in any way xenophobic or racist.

“They are welcoming, generous people but they also want fairness and they don’t think it’s fair that the country’s least well-off communities should experience pressure on wages, on housing, on public services... without any help to manage it.”

Mr Burnham, who has held a number of ministerial and Shadow Cabinet posts, called for the development of a new policy that would minimise the economic damage of reducing immigration while responding to people’s “legitimate concerns”.

The Leigh MP claimed free movement was “inherently discriminatory” and worked against socialist principles by allowing businesses to “treat people as commodities”.

He said: “It does not treat all migrants equally. Instead, it accords a preferential status to migrants from our nearest neighbours. In the context of a policy that seeks to cap numbers that therefore discriminates against those non-EU migrants that seek to come here.”

Failing to act would “leave the pitch clear” for right-wing voices to dominate the debate, he added.  

“It is time for many of us on this side of the House to confront a hard truth," Mr Burnham said. " Our reluctance in confronting this debate is undermining the cohesion of our communities and the safety of our streets. I am no longer prepared to be complicit in that. We need answers to the public concerns – but answers that are based on hope, not on hate.”

Other senior figures have intervened to call for Labour to rethink its policy.

John Healey, the Shadow Housing Minister, said the party “no longer have good answers” to many working-class voters’ concerns, and needed to support “managed migration”.