Yvette Cooper: Jeremy Corbyn and Diane Abbott are wrong on immigration

Posted On: 
15th December 2016

Yvette Cooper has called on Labour to make a "progressive argument" for ending freedom of movement as she became the latest big Labour name to clash with Jeremy Corbyn and Diane Abbott on immigration.

Yvette Cooper says Labour should back immigration controls.
PA Images

The former minister said she took "a different view" from the Labour leader and the Shadow Home Secretary and said the party must not be afraid to talk about limiting migrant numbers.

Her intervention, in an interview with The House magazine, follows the likes of Andy Burnham and Hilary Benn in breaking ranks with the party leadership on the issue.

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Both Mr Corbyn and Ms Abbott, as well as Shadow Chancellor John McDonnell, have rejected calls for Labour to back immigration controls once Britain leaves the European Union.

But Ms Cooper, whose Home Affairs Select Committee has launched an inquiry into immigration, said: "I just take a different view to Jeremy and Diane on this one. I think when you look at the way that agencies have been able to draw in a lot of low-skilled workers and then have employers use that to undercut wages and jobs, I think it does cause problems for economies.

"That’s why I think you can make a progressive argument to say that free movement hasn’t been working for the British economy in a way that’s fair. My starting point would be different from Jeremy and Diane’s."

Ms Cooper also dismissed Diane Abbott's suggestion that calling for immigration controls would turn Labour into "Ukip lite".

She said: "I think we’ve got to take Ukip on and be much harder about taking Ukip on. The approach they have taken is to make false promises to whip up fear and hostility. Immigration is really important for Britain, it just needs to be controlled and managed in a way that’s fair.

"I think it’s possible to be positive about what the economy needs and also talk about reform at the same time. Ukip are never going to do that, but equally that doesn’t mean that we should just ignore the issue or just say that people don’t have real concerns, because they do."

Earlier this week, former Shadow Foreign Secretary Hilary Benn said: "It’s clear the 52% (who voted Leave) sent a message about controls of free movement.

“But a lot of people I met who were voting for Leave during the referendum said: ‘Look we just want some control - it’s not that we are arguing there should be no continued migration from the European Union’.”

He added: "I think there should be [controls]. There is a debate going on in the nation, there is a debate going on in the Conservative party, there is a debate going on in the Labour party. But I accept that argument that there should be."

In the Commons last week, former Shadow Home Secretary Andy Burnham said freedom of movement was "undermining the cohesion" of the UK.

He said: "The 700,000 people in Greater Manchester who voted to leave – many of them lifelong Labour voters – voted for change on immigration. I am quite clear about that and that has to be our starting point in this debate. The status quo, full free movement, was defeated at the ballot box and therefore is not an option."

In his speech to the Labour conference in Liverpool in September, Jeremy Corbyn said putting a limit on immigration would "sow division" in the UK.

He said: "We will instead tackle the real issues of immigration – and make the real changes that are needed.

"We will act to end the exploitation of migrant labour to undercut workers’ pay and conditions. And we will ease the pressure on hard pressed public services - services that are struggling to absorb Tory austerity cuts, in communities absorbing new populations."