Tom Watson: Europe 'has to look' at reforming free movement rules

Posted On: 
14th June 2016

Tom Watson today called for major reform of the European Union's freedom of movement as the party seeks to convince supporters worried about immigration not to back Brexit next Thursday. 

Tom Watson supported calls for a review of the EU's freedom of movement rules
PA Images

Labour’s deputy leader said the EU would “have to look” again at the principle that allows EU citizens to live and work in any other member state.

His comments came after former Shadow Chancellor Ed Balls said a future Labour government should “press Europe to restore proper borders, and put new controls on economic migration”.

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Speaking to the BBC, Mr Watson said: "For the last decade I would say that immigration has been the backdrop to every election we’ve had in Britain and woe betide politicians that don’t listen to what voters tell them – and that’s a familiar story across Europe as well, if you look at Germany or Austria or other European countries.

“I think what we have to say – I did say the immigration issue was complicated – I think what we have to reassure people of [is] that if they vote Remain on Thursday 23 June, that isn’t the end of the reform package for Europe.

“I think a future Europe will have to look at things like the free movement of labour rules.”

Former Shadow Treasury Secretary Rachel Reeves said today that she also backed Mr Balls.

PoliticsHome revealed last week that a Labour In For Britain campaign leaflet made no mention of immigration.

Labour MP Yvette Cooper - Ed Balls' wife - also sparked anger last week by claiming the referendum campaign was not about immigration because Brexit would not address the issue.

A Labour MP told PoliticsHome the gulf between the party and its traditional support base had “got worse” under Jeremy Corbyn’s leadership.

"The referendum campaign has put in massive lights how out of touch Labour has become on the key issue of immigration,” the MP said.

“We've had a problem with working class voters for a long, long time and it has undoubtedly got worse under Jeremy. It is the number one issue on the doorstep and we have a leader who is completely out of touch on it.”


John Mann, a Labour MP who is supporting a Leave vote, dismissed Mr Watson’s suggestion by pointing out David Cameron had failed to achieve any renegotiation of the principle of free movement despite the looming threat of Britain’s referendum.

Mr Mann said: “He asked them to change their open borders policy, but the resounding answer was no.

“While some in the In campaign are desperately trying to hang on to the idea that Cameron’s renegotiation could reduce immigration, senior Labour figures are openly admitting defeat on this issue - and calling for a change to the EU’s obsession with freedom of movement.

“While it is welcome that they are finally admitting that uncontrolled migration is a problem, the truth is that they still have no solutions. If Cameron’s “renegotiation” told us one thing, it is that the EU will not move on this founding principle.”