Labour’s Clive Lewis believes the free movement of EU citizens to the United Kingdom “hasn’t worked” and the party must begin to address the concerns many Brits have about immigration.
Lewis, the shadow business secretary who is widely tipped as a potential future leader of the party, told the Guardian that years of mass migration from the EU has led to the public feeling insecure and left behind.
“We have to acknowledge that free movement of labour hasn’t worked for a lot of people,” he said.
“It hasn’t worked for many of the people in this country, where they’ve been undercut, who feel insecure, who feel they’re not getting any of the benefits that immigration has clearly had in our economy.”
Immigration was the most important issue for Brits heading into the June referendum on the country’s EU membership. The Leave campaign argued that leaving the 28-nation bloc would give Britain the opportunity to stop the free inward movement of EU citizens and significantly reduce immigration levels (“Take Back Control”).
However, Lewis doesn’t believe his party should abandon its commitment to the free movement of people, a condition EU leaders say Theresa May’s government must accept if it wants to retain Single Market membership.
Instead, the government should look to retain full market membership and adopt a revised approach to the free movement of people, based on strengthening the rights of British workers to preventing wages from being undercut.
“You don’t have to go down the path of talking about artificial barriers, which I think ultimately are going to harm the economy, and harm the very people who most need the economy to work for them,” he told the Guardian.
“What we’re going to say to business is, you want to have access to the single market? We’re prepared to champion that for you – but you have to accept that on the other side of the coin, the way business has been done, the way that the economy has been run, has led us to this place; has led people to feel insecure, to feel, ‘Stop the world, I want to get off’. There’s a quid pro quo: you have to give workers more job security; better terms and conditions; recognise trade unions.
“It will have an impact on the number of people coming to this country, if you make it more difficult for employers to bring people in, to undercut people.”
Lewis added that Labour must “re-invent”English nationalism and promote a form of patriotism which is outward-looking and based on tolerance and global cooperation. The Brexit vote and recent success of Donald Trump has widely been interpreted as symptoms of growing nationalism across the west.
“Does the Brexit vote lead us down a path of inward-looking, negative English nationalism, which will alienate the Scots, alienate the Irish, alienate the Welsh, or are we going to have an inclusive, civic, outward-looking, open, tolerant version of that? I think it’s there for the left to say, ‘We’ve got a stake in national pride and identity as well.’”
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