Keir Starmer: Freedom of movement could continue after Brexit

Posted On: 
25th April 2017

Sir Keir Starmer has said freedom of movement could continue after Brexit if EU migrants have a guaranteed job to come to.

Sir Keir Starmer says Labour accepts that freedom of movement will end after Brexit.
PA Images

The Shadow Brexit Secretary's remarks came shortly after he had become the most senior Labour figure to say freedom of movement must end when Britain leaves the EU.

In a speech in London, he said there needed to be a system of "managed migration" to control numbers because that is what voters backed in last year's referendum.

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He said: "So far as workers are concerned, we have to say a managed migration system is premised on what works for our economy and what works for our communities. We have to be honest enough to say the referendum result was largely a result of concerns about freedom of movement."

He said freedom of movement "will have to end" when the UK leaves the single market after Brexit.

"As it currently stands, membership of the single market is incompatible with our clarity about the fact that freedom of movement rules have to change," he said.

But in an interview afterwards with the BBC, Sir Keir said there were circumstances in which freedom of movement could continue.

Asked if "people from Europe could carry on coming here if they have  a job to come to", he replied: "Yes. Freedom of movement has to go and therefore it will have to change but we must have immigration that works for our communities and for our economy.

"And that means that there has to movement of people to come and work in this country. How that's managed will have to be resolved but the last thing we want is for our businesses to go bankrupt."

Sir Keir's initial comments had threatened to spark a fresh Labour split over immigration policy.

In a keynote speech in January, Labour leader Mr Corbyn was supposed to say his party "is not wedded to freedom of movement for EU citizens as a point of principle".

But when he delivered it, he added: "But I don’t want that to be misinterpreted, nor do we rule it out."

Shadow Home Secretary Diane Abbott has repeatedly said she supports the continuation of freedom of movement.

Last month she said: "It is important to remember that freedom of movement is a workers’ right. In all societies where there are significantly greater freedoms for business and for capital than for workers, then in practice workers’ rights are severely curtailed."

Elsewhere in his speech, Sir Keir confirmed that the party would immediately guarantee the rights of the 3 million EU citizens living in the UK if it wins the election, as well as scrap the Government's Brexit White Paper and replace the Great Repeal Bill with legislation protecting workers' rights.

Brexit Secretary David Davis said: "This is the first time that we've heard this clarity on free movement. Unfortunately for both Jeremy Corbyn and Keir Starmer, many on the Labour front bench don't agree with him - Diane Abbott and others."

A source close to Jeremy Corbyn said: "EU/UK migration rules, including freedom of movement, will change when we leave the EU. Keir's speech is a recognition of that."