Jeremy Corbyn says freedom of movement would be 'open for negotiation' if Labour led Brexit talks

Posted On: 
19th May 2019

Labour's pledge to end free movement of people after Brexit would be "open for negotiation" if the party took charge of EU talks, Jeremy Corbyn has said.

The Labour leader also said he would not give any government plan on workers' rights a "blank cheque".
Credit: 
PA

The ability to live and work freely between European Union member states is a key principle of the bloc, and Labour's 2017 election manifesto said: "Freedom of movement will end when we leave the European Union."

But the Labour leader told the BBC's Andrew Marr show that any Brexit negotiations led by his party would seek to recognise the need for "a great deal of movement of workers" in sectors including agriculture and education.

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Asked whether his party was "staunchly against" EU free movement, Mr Corbyn said: "Our manifesto said that the European system would obviously not apply if you're not in the European Union.

"But I quite clearly recognise there has to be a lot of movement of workers... Ask any company in manufacturing or any other sector how much they need and rely on workers from Europe and indeed the other way around."

And he added: "It would be open for negotiation, the level of movement of people between Europe and this country if we were a non-member of the EU."

Asked directly whether Labour would keep free movement after Brexit, Mr Corbyn replied: "What I was saying is we would ensure that there would be an ability to move from country to country... particularly where there's a need for a workforce to achieve that."

Shadow Brexit Secretary Sir Keir Starmer has previously hinted at a softening of Labour's stance on EU immigration, telling the BBC's Newnsight in February that the UK should not get "stuck on" ending free movement after Brexit.

'NO BLANK CHEQUE' FOR WORKERS' RIGHTS PLAN

Elsewhere in his Andrew Marr interview, Mr Corbyn - who last week ditched cross-party Brexit talks with the Government and accused ministers of failing to shift from their negotiating red lines - said Labour would look "very carefully" at any pledge by Theresa May to try and protect workers' rights after Brexit.

But he warned that the party would not hand the Prime Minister a "blank cheque".

Mrs May has promised to present MPs with the "bold new offer" when her EU deal comes up for a fourth vote in June, although she has declined to give any details on what that might involve.

Mr Corbyn said: "If a bill comes up which entrenches workers' rights in law obviously we'd look at it very carefully."

But he said: "All that's been offered so far is to say they would accept the rights as there are from the European Union at the present time and Parliament would have the opportunity to align itself with them in the future...

"We would obviously look at it very carefully in Parliament and we would obviously reserve our right to either amend it or oppose it depending on what's in it."

And he added: "I can't give it a blank cheque."

'CHALLENGE AUSTERITY'

Mr Corbyn also rejected a characterisation of his party's EU elections platform as 'Vote Labour, Get Brexit', and said he believed it would be "reasonable to have a public vote" on any Labour-backed EU deal that gets through Parliament.

He said: "I think what would be a fair assessment would be to say 'vote Labour, challenge austerity and guarantee living standards for the future, not a no-deal exit from the European Union which is all that is being offered by the Tory right and in a sense by the Tory Party.'"

On a second referendum he said: "What we fought the [2017] general election on was to respect the result of the referendum - and that we've done -  to try to get a deal which guarantees trade and relations with Europe in the future, and if we can get that through Parliament, the proposals we put, then I think it would be reasonable to have a public vote to decide on that in the future."