A Labour government would introduce “managed migration” for EU nationals in the event Brexit happens, the shadow foreign secretary, Emily Thornberry, has said, as the party continues to debate what immigration policy to offer at the election.
Senior Labour figures are expected to meet on Monday to discuss the policy, although a final decision will not be made until next weekend, with some pushing for ideas including a rejection of income-based entry, and the maintenance of free movement to and from the EU.
Speaking on Sunday Labour’s campaign coordinator, Andrew Gywnne, said Labour would seek to strike “reciprocal agreements with the EU27 that allow British citizens to enjoy some of the freedoms that they will lose as a result of Brexit”.
In an article in the Times on Monday the senior Conservative minister Michael Gove argued that a Jeremy Corbyn government would place pressure on public services with free movement, calling the idea “extreme, dangerous and out of touch with the British people”.
But asked about this by BBC Radio 5, Thornberry said that if a Labour government left the EU then the post-departure immigration policy would include controls on EU nationals – although those already in the UK would face no restrictions.
The party’s policy if it won the election would be to try to swiftly renegotiate a departure deal including customs union membership and access to the single market. This would then be put to the public in a referendum, against a remain option.
“If we leave the European Union then what we want to have is fair rules and managed migration. But those people who were here already, we will guarantee that they will be allowed to stay,” she said.
Asked how this squared with a motion passed at Labour’s conference in September seeking to “maintain and extend free movement rights” for EU citizens, Thornberry said: “I think we’ll need to wait and see what comes out of the manifesto, but I can certainly say that the thinking within the Labour party is that if we’re going to leave the European Union we will have fair rules and managed migration.
“We heard people when they said one of the reasons that they voted for Brexit was because of unrestricted levels of immigration.”
Thornberry said Labour would not need to agree to free movement as part of a deal, as it was not seeking full membership of the single market, which is based around unrestricted access for goods, capital and people.
“The deal that we want to negotiate is one where we remain in the customs union and we can be as close to the single market as we’re able to be in order to maximise the opportunities for jobs and the economy,” she said.
“Clearly, if we were in single market then we would need to abide by all of the rules, which would include freedom of movement. It is one of these things which is open to negotiation.
“What we need be doing is we need to be negotiating something whereby we leave the European Union with the best deal that we can, so that we can put that back to the people.”