WATCH: Keir Starmer hints that Labour could accept some EU free movement to break Brexit deadlock

Posted On: 
5th February 2019

Shadow Brexit Secretary Sir Keir Starmer has said Britain should not get "stuck on" ending the free movement of EU workers after Brexit.

The Shadow Brexit Secretary said there was a "debate" to be had about freedom of movement.

In a hint that Labour - which vowed to end freedom of movement at the 2017 election - could soften its Brexit stance, the frontbencher told the BBC's Newsnight that making it easier for some EU citizens to come to the UK could form part of a "principled, effective and fair immigration policy"

Free movement of citizens between EU member states is a key principle of the single market, and Labour's 2017 manifesto says: "Freedom of movement will end when we leave the European Union."

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But the Shadow Brexit Secretary said he believed most voters would be willing relax the rules in the right circumstances.

He told Newsnight: "If somebody is coming to do a job and it needs to be done and it has been advertised locally beforehand with nobody able to do it, then most people would say 'I accept that'.

"Most people say that if you are coming to join your family that is something I can accept. Most people would say if somebody wants to come here and study and it is genuine then of course please come and study. In fact let's celebrate that.

"So I actually think we get stuck on the freedom of movement discussion too early without saying what does a principled, effective and fair immigration policy look like?

"When we get into that debate we may find we can make better progress than we think."



The Labour frontbencher was also asked whether he could accept the Norway Plus plan being talked up by some MPs as an alternative to Mrs May's deal.

That proposal would see the UK push for Norway-style access to the EU single market through membership of the European Free Trade Association (EFTA) and European Economic Area (EEA) - a plan that would also involve accepting a more limited freedom of workers.

Sir Keir said: "Well that would have to be explored and the precise detail of that."

He meanwhile tore into the Government's handling of the Brexit process, and accused Theresa May of allowing "sticking points" to build up during two years of talks with the EU.

"There is a negotiation to be had there," he said.

"But I genuinely think that if 12, 18 months ago we had been clear, as the UK, to say we want a close economic relationship, we want these features - customs union, single market alignment - and the only sticking points now were how exactly do you stay aligned, what is the proposition about freedom of movement but we know what we are trying to achieve - we would be in a materially better place than we are now."