Diane Abbott has confirmed that Labour remains committed to a work visa system over any other immigration policy, despite party conference voting for a motion in favour of maintaining and extending free movement.
Questioned on BBC Radio 4’s Today programme about whether the proposal passed by conference will be included in the next manifesto, the Shadow Home Secretary said: “We, as part of our manifesto, will be promising to renegotiate Brexit and have a better and fairer deal.
“And as part of that renegotiation, although we’re saying that people who have been granted freedom of movement rights up to now will keep those rights, we have to look at the question of freedom of movement. Because it’s all in with your trade negotiations.”
Responding to the idea that the party view on freedom of movement was “all up in the air”, she said: “There are a lot of differences about immigration policy. We’re going to get rid of the hostile environment; we are going to stand up for family rights and family reunion; we’re going to have a fairer and more just and better organised immigration system.”
“How are you going to decide who should come into the country?” Abbott was asked. She said: “Well, what we will do is respect the rights of people already here, like the EU three million. But in terms of who comes in, one of the things that we are suggesting is a new system of work visas, which would be looking at what the needs of the country are, what is appropriate, what is just, what is family reunion.”
It was pointed out: “But the motion passed in Brighton says that the immigration system should not be based on a person’s income or utility to big business, any cap or target on the number of people shouldn’t exist.”
Abbott replied: “It’s not about utility to big business; it’s about the needs of the health service, about our social care system. Of course we are not going to have the Tories’ arbitrary caps. Of course we are going to have a fair and just immigration system. I’ve said that in a number of speeches this year, and that is what’s going to happen. We need an immigration system which reflects the best values of our country.”
The Labour Party is not strictly bound by policy passed at its annual conference. It is the ‘Clause V’ meeting – held once an election is called – that decides which parts of the party programme are included in the manifesto.