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The BLP and Brexit January 10, 2017

Posted by WorldbyStorm in Uncategorized.

It remains to be seen – at the time of writing this – if the report in the Guardian on Corbyn giving a speech today where he will support ‘managed migration’ is accurate. If so we can chalk that down as yet another defeat for progressive political approaches in the wake of Brexit. Add it to the growing pile as it were (and what of that left turn in British politics?).

But for the genesis of such thinking this from Stephen Kinnock and Emma Reynolds in the Observer is perhaps typical of a strand of BLP thinking on the issues surrounding Brexit which is hardly progressive at all. It’s quite a piece, which from the off manages to muddy the waters. For example:

The EU referendum was a vote for change on immigration. Free movement of people was rejected and now, as shadow Brexit secretary Keir Starmer stated in his recent Bloomberg speech, “the status quo is not an option”.

Actually the vote was on membership of the EU. Free movement of people can be part of EU membership or not, and vice versa. But if that’s where they’re starting we can see the destination coming into view fairly quickly. And the language used? Well, no real defence of progressive goals.

But people are worried about more than pressures on jobs, wages and housing: they are anxious about culture, identity and the rate of change of communities. Many of the areas that voted Leave on 23 June have little or no EU immigration, so it is clear that concerns are not limited to the areas that have experienced large and rapid inward migration flows. They are nationwide, strongly held and generally immune to arguments based on abstract economic data.

What’s fascinating about that last line of argument is that rather than using that to underscore how problematic the concerns are and how they are overblown Kinnock and Reynolds decide that they’ll double down on a more reactionary position. Indeed they don’t even begin to address how areas with considerable immigration have somehow managed in many many instances to vote Remain, in other words culture identity and rate of change of communities may well not be the pressing issue they seem to think it is.

Anyhow, their solution?

Labour must urgently press the government to put a progressive, fair and managed two-tier migration system at the heart of the Brexit negotiations. Within tier 1, highly skilled EU workers, such as doctors, teachers and engineers, could move to the UK on the basis of confirmed employment. The jobs they would fill must exceed agreed education, skills and income thresholds. For example, education to 18, plus a minimum of three years’ higher education or post-education work experience, combined with a minimum salary of £25,000 per year. EU students with a place at a British university would also be included in this tier.

And the second tier?

Tier 2 would comprise low-skilled and semi-skilled EU workers, whose access to the UK labour market would be restricted by sector-based quotas, negotiated between government, industry and trade unions. This tier would cover sectors such as agriculture, food processing, retail, construction and hospitality. Quotas must be phased in over time and carefully designed to strike the right balance between maximising job and training opportunities for local workers and ensuring that sudden workforce shortages are averted. This could deliver the ultimate prize of a higher-wage, higher-skilled economy.

By the by, note how Ireland yet again is not even on the radar in regard to their thinking. And this from supposedly progressive thinkers?

No real clarity of thought as to whether any of this would be acceptable to the EU.

Years of experience working in Brussels taught us that EU negotiations are successful only when a win-win proposal is on the table. But Theresa May’s approach has so far shown neither creativity nor ambition. She seems unable to recognise that an ambitious UK-EU trade deal will be secured only if we offer EU workers preferential access to the British labour market. This can be combined with restrictions on low- and semi-skilled workers and therefore meet the British public’s desire for greater control. It is imperative that May changes direction in 2017. Failure to do so would lead our country into a “hard Brexit”, inflicting huge damage on the economy, jobs and living standards across the country.

How that works in the context of events in Switzerland in relation to freedom of movement last month I’m not sure. But then if they’re not mentioning Ireland why would they bother their heads with anywhere else?

But then when we get this sort of stuff coming from Caroline Flint one has to wonder about how strong the grasp on reality actually is.

“It is ridiculous that Labour, a party that has supported regulation of businesses and markets, would want no limits on an open-door EU labour market. Backing fair controls on immigration is entirely in keeping with Labour values. Labour has an opportunity to put forward a case for a preferential labour migration scheme – or risk being ignored during these crucial Brexit negotiations.”


1. Michael Carley - January 10, 2017

After a union meeting yesterday I had a chat with an Italian friend of mine who works in a bit of the UK scientific civil service (PhD, twenty odd years in England). He has been surprised by the change in atmosphere here (children abused for speaking French in the street) but he had one tangential point which says just how bad things might get. His union is Prospect, which is the kind of union whose newsletter carries an article from a Tory MP praising it as the kind of constructive union we can engage with.

Apparently, a number of members of Prospect in this bit of the scientific civil service are turning round to their union and pointing out that they are now at risk of being denied residency because their pay is too low because Prospect accepted zero pay increases for a few years.


2. Michael Carley - January 10, 2017

Extracts from the speech here:

Labour is not wedded to freedom of movement for EU citizens as a point of principle.

But nor can we afford to lose full access to the European markets on which so many British businesses and jobs depend. Changes to the way migration rules operate from the EU will be part of the negotiations.

Labour supports fair rules and reasonably managed migration as part of the post-Brexit relationship with the EU.

Unlike the Tories, Labour will not offer false promises on immigration targets or sow division by scapegoating migrants.

But Labour will take action against undercutting of pay and conditions by closing down cheap labour loopholes, banning exclusive advertising of jobs abroad and strengthening workplace protections.

That would have the effect of reducing numbers of EU migrant workers in the most deregulated sectors, regardless of the final Brexit deal.


He does seem to have listened to the people who have been trying to topple him.


GW - January 10, 2017

That’s the ticket. Let the right set the agenda. Let immigration become the main issue in forthcoming elections.

It’s not as if UKIP/AfD/Front National can always overtrump you on this issue.



sonofstan - January 10, 2017

On the othr hand:

He refused to back the plan for a two-tier immigration scheme proposed by some Labour MPs. This would involve skilled EU workers with jobs in the UK having easy access to the UK, but tougher limits on unskilled workers. Corbyn said he had not formed an opinion on his proposal yet.

He refused to commit Labour to an immigration target and would not accept the proposal that immigration was too high. (See 9.58am.)
(from the Guardian tracker)


Michael Carley - January 10, 2017

The problem is that when you concede the language you’re half way to conceding the argument. “Labour supports fair rules and reasonably managed migration as part of the post-Brexit relationship with the EU.” can be paraphrased accurately as “Controls on immigration”, which will fit the side of a mug just nicely.


Michael Carley - January 10, 2017

And another thing, “Labour is not wedded to freedom of movement for EU citizens as a point of principle.” is the thin end of a thick wedge. If Labour concedes free movement for EU citizens, at some point they have to decide what to do about EU citizens who are already here.


GW - January 10, 2017

+10 on conceding the language and conceptual ground.

He needed to introduce another narrative about migration and asylum seekers that the right can’t go one better on.

Like the fact that in Germany the current generation of asylum seekers will lead to a 0.7% growth in GDP in the form of real hard-to-outsource economic activity per year.


WorldbyStorm - January 10, 2017

Ah, sorry MC, I see we’ve both made the same point in more or less similar language. I hate this concession to the far right. And that is what it is. I like Corbyn but I’m deeply depressed about just what is going on here.


Michael Carley - January 10, 2017

@WBS I wouldn’t worry: sure isn’t it a case of parallel genius?

Liked by 1 person

Ed - January 10, 2017

I suspect it’s more a case of listening to people like Len McCluskey and Paul Mason who have been calling for a policy shift on this (along with members of the shadow cabinet, according to reports). Apparently Corbyn has already been giving TV interviews this morning stating that Labour wants to stay in the single market and free movement of labour goes with that. It’s a confused and confusing line—Clive Lewis said similar things in an interview before Christmas—where the only concrete measures being proposed involve stronger labour-market regulation, which is a good thing in itself and doesn’t need to be linked to immigration. The likes of Stephen Kinnock certainly won’t be satisfied with that, either; I wonder if anything will satisfy them, short of Labour MPs punching Polish immigrants in the face while chanting ‘two world wars and one world cup, do da, do da!’

There’s just no clever way of dancing around the key issue here: if immigrants are being held responsible for problems they haven’t caused, controls on immigration won’t make a damn bit of difference to those problems. British workers have had an average pay cut of 10% since 2008; ending free movement won’t do anything to change that. You just have to grasp that nettle and try and change the conversation from fake problems to real ones.


WorldbyStorm - January 10, 2017

100%agree Ed, and particularly with your last paragraph


Ed - January 10, 2017

BTW, let’s pause for a moment to register the irony of Stephen Kinnock of all people—the son of an EU commissioner who married the Danish prime minister—railing against ‘diversity’ and cosmopolitan elites. So much of this guff comes from people who know they are hopelessly out of touch with the vast majority of their fellow citizens and think the only way to relate to them is by waving flags and talking about how proud they are to be British. It’s pitiful.

Liked by 1 person

Michael Carley - January 10, 2017

You just have to grasp that nettle and try and change the conversation from fake problems to real ones.

Exactly that, and it is what Corbyn seemed to be doing. We can expect no better of Kinnock, though we could have expected better of Burnham and Cooper (Reeves should be deselected after going the full Enoch), but Corbyn seemed prepared to be unpopular with the gobshites for sticking to some decent principles. He’s now shifted on that.

I am more and more coming to the conclusion that the real division that matters now is between racists and fascists and those who pander to them, and the opposition. Anna Soubry, in that sense, is a lot better than many Labour MPs. Unless Corbyn, or somebody else, recovers the situation, Labour will not oppose UKIP in any meaningful way on immigration. It will be annihilated electorally, and it will deserve to be, and then things will get /really/ bad.


sonofstan - January 10, 2017



6to5against - January 10, 2017

I agree with a lot of this – all of it, really – but I can also see a defence of Corbyn’s actions today.

When Trump started talking about building a wall, it was very easy for those on the left to decry his racist nonsense. The problem with that is that it can be twisted to suit his narrative: it can be presented as if his opponents are against against all border controls.

Now, I’m sure many or most of here have an instinctive dislike of border controls, but is anybody pushing a policy of entirely disbanding then with immediate effect? To some extent, they are part and parcel of every state and/or group of states in the world and they will be for a long time to come: all that varies are visa regulations and the degree of security.

The Mexican border is already heavily fortified. the reason the wall is a stupid policy is that it will cost a lot of money and do nothing. Mocking the policy is a better response than

Similarly, I don’t think Corbyn should get trapped by the Tories going heavy on anti-immigration rhetoric into arguing against all border controls. Far better to say ‘we will police the border, (as we always have) and while we’re doing it address the real problems in British society.’

Putting it another way, Hasn’t migration always been ‘managed’? Has Corbyn announced a change, or is he just trying to nullify the Tories rhetoric, to try to get the conversation to somewhere sensible?


WorldbyStorm - January 10, 2017

I’ve some thoughts on that point 6to5against which I’ll post up later, and I see entirely how that defence might be made but my basic feeling is that all this rhetoric from Corbyn on out to UKIP (and Ed makes this in a slightly different way) problematises immigration and most directly immigrants. So for UKIP and the far right immigrants are one sort of a problem but for those less extreme they’re a different problem but still a problem. And I think that positioning them in that sort of a discourse is both dangerous – we see the effects on the UK body politic of how the referendum is now being fought explicitly on territory it wasn’t positioned formally on, and incorrect. Of course societies will ‘manage’ immigration (and I don’t think it is possible for societies to accept unlimited numbers due to basic logistics, but I also suspect that the UK is better placed than many to accept, as it has, significant numbers and as Ed says it’s hard to take seriously complaints about state buckling after the defunding of services across the best part of a decade by the Tories) but the tools they use don’t need to be overt, indeed arguably bar entry ports etc they shouldn’t be, and often (almost always) have other effects – for example, simple union membership across a society is a hugely important means of raising wages and preventing the sort of exploitation that Corbyn rightly points to but feels he has to reframe in the context of immigration when of course exploitation isn’t a symptom or a cause of immigration but of broader socio-economic and political dynamics.


6to5against - January 10, 2017

I think I’d pretty much agree with everything you say there WbS, I suppose I’m not so much defending the stance as defending Corbyn..

We’d all like to see the narrative shift, and don’t want to see rhetorical ground ceded to the far right. But these are pretty desperate times, and you have to deal with the world the way it is, rather than how you’d like it to be. Corbyn is embattled to an extraordinary extent. The accusation against him – from the press, the Tories and the labour Right – is essentially that he wants open borders. If that idea gains traction (and I think it has), he’s not going to get a hearing on anything else. I hope he’s trying to find a way through that trap without turning to racist rhetoric. If he succeeds (and I doubt he will) I’d be delighted.

Trying to find a fine line through this political maze isn’t going to be easy for him – or anybody else of good intention. If they mis-step, I’d be inclined to indulge them a bit (within pretty narrow limits, quite honestly).

Is that depressing? It is. Profoundly. But I think the blame for this still rests with those who created the situation.


WorldbyStorm - January 10, 2017

The thing is does one double down on the narrative or does one attempt to shift it? For example, the point is made elsewhere that the LDs are positioning themselves (Cable excepted and he’s not an MP) as pro-freedom of movement, etc. I loath the LDs but – and without anything like an alliance, it would surely be easier given there are voices pushing against the immigration control narrative to counteract that if the LP rather than fracturing in this bizarre way actually came out and stated that the question is all wrong, that cuts are what has exacerbated problems, that immigrants are necessary, that there have always been a means to ‘manage’ it and those ways are faster easier and essentially don’t hurt people while strengthening all workers, etc, etc. You and I could over an afternoon come up with something, anything, better than what is being delivered today. Again, I wonder about the sheer numbers. This is going to alienate people I suspect who currently support the LP more than attract those who used to.

There’s a broader question as to whether Corbyn is the man to be doing all this anyhow. But that’s for another day.

Liked by 1 person

3. FergusD - January 10, 2017

Corbyn doesn’t seem to have the stomach for a fight, including deselection. He wants to mollify the right of the BLP in the interest of unity. It won’t work, they will get rid of him unless he gets control of the officaldom of the LP and allows deselections to go ahead. Let the Guardian scream!

Sadly the momentum of his victory is being lost. And Momentum isn’t really fighting back.

On another track did you see the stuff about the Israeli “diplomat” and Labour Friends of Israel which Al Jazeera exposed. All expenses paid trips to Israel for Labour MPs, including Tom Watson (we knew that already though).

I don’t understand why some BLP MPs seem so devoted to, not just Israel, but its rabid right wing government, which many Jews (Israeli and not) dislike. Weird.



And Corbyn goes along with Theresa May’s definition of anti-semitism it seems.



4. ivorthorne - January 10, 2017

I’m currently working in the English social care sector. This 2 tier proposal is massively problematic.

First, there are already massive staff shortages and the entire sector would have practically collapsed in the absence of EU workers.

Second, who is going to pay for these tens of thousands of applications? Who is going to process them? I work for a large company and they don’t support work visa applications because of the costs involved.

Third, the UK is competing with other countries for these workers. Why would many of these people go to the UK when it’s much easier and cheaper to go work in France, Ireland or Denmark?

Liked by 1 person

5. Aengus Millen - January 10, 2017

I’ve thought for a while that the problem with Corbyn was not his ideals but rather his inability to pick a set of issues and hammer them home. Honestly what’s the point of fighting of the labour left wing if the right wing can’t make a go of it. They’re obviously spooked by the polls but it seems to me that their dip in the polls is more due to bad messaging then to a bad message. The final thing to say is that they are abandoning ground to the Lib Dem’s and its growing harder and harder not to hope that the Lib Dem’s don’t benefit from it.

Liked by 1 person

Aengus Millen - January 10, 2017

Meant to say: what’s the point of the labour left wing fighting the labour right wing if the left wing can’t make a go of it


6. Jim Monaghan - January 10, 2017

No comment
“The left and immigration
Nicola Lawlor – http://www.communistpartyofireland.ie/sv/05-immigration.html

The left must embrace the debate about immigration from a working-class viewpoint and not run away from it, or shout over it, or ignorantly paint all workers who have fears and concerns as racists.

The recent British referendum has revealed a number of serious weaknesses of the left, and consequently a lot of working-class anger and frustration is expressed though right-wing groups.”


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