Owen Smith: Pro-immigration stance for Labour is worth losing votes to Ukip

Posted On: 
31st August 2016

Labour leadership hopeful Owen Smith has said the party must take an overtly pro-immigration stance – even if it means losing votes to Ukip.

Owen Smith is challenging Jeremy Corbyn for the Labour leadership
PA Images

In an interview with the Independent he said “some electoral damage” should not stand in the way of Labour championing the benefits of immigration.

The party lost huge support to Ukip in some of its former heartlands at the last general election, while the same areas voted overwhelmingly for Brexit.

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In the past Mr Smith has suggested immigration should be curbed, since “a rapid influx” in some parts of Britain had put pressure on wages.

But in an apparent change of stance he said Labour should argue immigrants boost economic growth, are key to public services and helped pull Britain out of recession.

“I think even if there was some electoral damage, we should be clear about it,” he told the website.

“There have been moments when Labour has sent mixed messages about this and I think the time has come to be absolutely clear about it.”

He added: “The conclusion I have come to is that in politics you get the politics you deserve.

“We've had a really ugly debate about immigration in Britain and crucially I think Labour, which is the party that always has to speak to the best of people's value and always has to speak for decency in Britain and tolerance and diversity, needs to be much more straightforward about our views on immigration.”

His stance puts him at odds with senior Labour figures, including deputy leader Tom Watson, former frontbencher Yvette Cooper and former Shadow Chancellor Ed Balls.

All three have suggested EU immigration into the UK should be reformed.

Office for National Statistics figures show net migration to the UK was 327,000 last year.