Keir Starmer puts free movement firmly on the table in new Labour Brexit plan
Labour could accept unfettered immigration from the EU as part of its new proposal to strike a single market arrangement with the bloc after Brexit, Keir Starmer revealed today.
The Shadow Brexit Secretary said the free movement principle would “have to be negotiated” in a new settlement under the Labour plans.
His comments are a major shift from the previous Labour position that free movement “will end” after Brexit.
Control of immigration is thought to have been a major factor in the decision to quit the EU in 2016, after Brits in some communities were left concerned about the influx of new arrivals.
Brussels has insisted the UK cannot “cherry pick” some aspects of the bloc for its future relationship - meaning single market membership includes acceptance of free movement.
In a surprising move last night, Labour announced that it would call on the Government to strike a new “single market deal” to protect the benefits of EU membership after Brexit.
And Mr Starmer today admitted that could involve keeping UK borders fully open to free EU migration.
“Free movement will have to be negotiated,” he told BBC News. “Obviously we will have to set out what it is that we seek to achieve.
“The EU is obviously looking at free movement itself and it will be part the negotiation.”
He added: “Full access to the internal market means the benefits of the internal market, which has always been the Labour party position.
“Obviously that comes with obligations, and that’s why we’ve said it has to be underpinned by shared institutions and shared regulations.”
Previously Labour leader Jeremy Corbyn had said: “Clearly the free movement ends when we leave the European Union but there will be managed migration and it will be fair.”
Labour has tabled fresh amendments to Brexit legislation seeking “full access” to the single market and scrubbing out a bid to keep the UK in the EEA - the so-called ‘Norway model’.
But the move sparked a backlash from pro-EU MPs who accused the leadership of trying to "wreck" their attempts to keep Britain in the existing single market and customs union.
They argue soft-Brexit Tory MPs may have backed a cross-party bid to keep the UK in the EEA, but will not back any proposals tabled by the Labour party.
Ilford North MP Wes Streeting suggested the plan was a bid to create "an easy ride to make our jobs easier".
And former Shadow Northern Ireland Secretary Owen Smith branded the plan a "fudge" and demanded Labour oppose the "Brexit fiasco" pushed by the Tories.
This morning Mr Starmer admitted Labour was split on the issue of how to keep the UK tied to EU bodies but blasted critics pushing the EEA route.
“The pretence that somehow everybody in the Labour party is in the same place on this and therefore it is not winnable is a pretence and it really doesn’t help,” he argued.