Labour activists, MPs and some trade union leaders have launched a campaign to “defend and extend” freedom of movement for migrants into Britain.
A new loose grouping, Labour Campaign for Free Movement, calls on Labour’s left wing leadership to promise to defend migrants and freedom of movement.
Left wing leader Jeremy Corbyn has previously said that “freedom of movement will end” after Britain leaves the European Union (EU). He has come under pressure from the Labour right.
But the new campaign’s founding statement rightly insisted that, “Migrants are not to blame for falling wages, insecurity, bad housing and overstretched public services.
“Labour is the party of all working people—regardless of where they were born.”
The statement added, “We fought the last general election arguing against such scapegoating.”
This was a reference to Corbyn’s speeches at mass rallies during the general election campaign.
He put forward an anti-racist message as part of a radical, left wing campaign that blamed austerity and the rich for the problems in society. This was key to Labour’s success in the election.
But Corbyn has been under constant pressure from right wingers who insist that Labour can only win an election if it panders to racism.
They see the vote to leave the EU in last year’s referendum as a vote for more immigration controls.
Right wing MPs who want Labour to keep Britain in the EU, such as Chuka Umunna, have called for more immigration controls.
Umunna last month defied the Labour leadership to call for Britain to stay in the EU single market, which promotes privatisation and austerity. He had not signed the statement.
But there is a danger that other MPs and Labour supporters who have supported the statement want to tie defending migrants to defending the EU.
Norwich MP Clive Lewis is the first signature on the statement. He said last November that free movement “hasn’t worked for many of the people in this country, where they’ve been undercut”.
Shortly afterwards another signatory, columnist Owen Jones, argued that Labour needs “a programme, and a language” that “chimes with the concerns” about immigration.
But Lewis quit Labour’s shadow cabinet after Corbyn demanded that his MPs back a bill to begin the process of leaving the EU. Encouraged by Jones, he was reported to be preparing to challenge Corbyn as Labour leader.
Other MPs who signed the statement include David Lammy and Geraint Davies. Both want a second EU referendum.
Labour has to clearly defend migrants and free movement. But its leadership shouldn’t let right wing Labour MPs use solidarity with migrants to push the party into defending the EU bosses’ club.