Labour members have voted overwhelmingly to give full voting rights to all UK residents, committing the party to extend the franchise to millions of immigrants.
A motion tabled by the Labour Campaign for Free Movement was passed at the party’s conference in Brighton on Wednesday morning, after MPs were forced to rush back to Westminster to attend the newly reconvened House of Commons.
As well as extending voting rights, the text commits a future Labour government to closing all immigration detention centres, ending “no recourse to public funds” policies and seeking to extend free movement rights to people around the world.
Ana Oppenheim from the Labour Campaign for Free Movement and the pro-EU group Another Europe is Possible said it was “a source of shame for many activists” that the party’s 2017 manifesto pledged to end free movement.
“Now we can move forward not only committed to defending free movement, but to giving migrants the vote,” she said. “If we win, the next election will be the last election in which people like me are shut out of the democratic process.”
The home secretary, Priti Patel, was quick to criticise the move, saying Jeremy Corbyn did not believe in any limits on immigration.
“Corbyn’s Labour even wants to extend free movement to more countries and allow potentially dangerous illegal immigrants to roam our streets,” she said. “The British people voted to take back control. It’s only Boris Johnson and the Conservatives who will deliver Brexit by 31 October and end free movement once and for all.”
The conference motion read: “Confronted with attacks on migrants – from the racist hostile environment to the Conservatives’ immigration bill that plans to end free movement and strip the rights of working-class migrants – we stand for solidarity, equality and freedom.
“Scapegoating, ending free movement and attacking migrants’ rights are attacks on all workers. They make migrant workers more precarious and vulnerable to hyper-exploitation, pressing down wages and conditions for everyone. They divide us, making it harder to unionise and push back.”
Ben Towse, an organiser for the Labour Campaign for Free Movement, said the conference had made history by adopting a policy of “radical solidarity with migrants”.
He added: “The next Labour government will now make history by immediately closing every detention centre, by granting democratic rights to millions of people, by extending free movement and by taking on xenophobic scapegoating lies with workers’ unity and solidarity, across the artificial divisions of birthplace.”
Many migrants in the UK have residence on the condition that they have no recourse to public funds, meaning they are not able to claim most benefits, tax credits or housing assistance. The policy renders many destitute and reliant on charities to survive.
Celebrating the success of the motion, the Labour Campaign for Free Movement tweeted a photograph of the controversial “Controls on immigration” mugs produced by Labour during the 2015 general election campaign. “Now officially in the bin,” the tweet said.
At the 2017 election, Labour’s manifesto said freedom of movement within the EU would end when the UK ceased to be a member. After Brexit, the party wants a close relationship with the single market, but it has not formally committed to keeping the UK in the single market, which would ensure free movement continued.
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The motion also opposed immigration systems based on a person’s income or “utility to big business”, and any caps or targets on the number of people moving to the UK.
The shadow home secretary, Diane Abbott, welcomed the motion and acknowledged it was now Labour policy. “Be assured, our plans for government include these provisions and a lot more, to make this country a better, more decent and more prosperous place,” she said.
Only British, Irish and Commonwealth citizens are able to vote in general elections, while EU nationals can vote in local and European elections.