Miliband shifts immigration policy, saying Labour 'got it wrong'


Ed Miliband: "We became too disconnected from the concerns of working people."

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Labour leader Ed Miliband has promised to deter firms from exclusively employing workers from overseas, admitting his party "got it wrong" on immigration when in government.

He said Gordon Brown and Tony Blair should not have allowed uncontrolled immigration from new EU states in 2004.

He also pledged to ban recruitment agencies which use only foreign workers at the expense of "local talent".

But the Conservatives said Labour had "no credibility" on immigration.

In 2004, the government allowed free migration to the UK for workers from EU accession states including Poland, Hungary and the Czech Republic.


But its estimates that only about 13,000 people a year would come to the country were soon proved wrong, with a peak net migration figure, from the EU and elsewhere, of 252,000 in 2010.

Some countries imposed transitional controls to slow the speed of movement.

In a speech to the IPPR think-tank, Mr Miliband said: "It was a mistake not to impose transitional controls on accession from Eastern European countries. We severely underestimated the number of people who would come here. We were dazzled by globalisation and too sanguine about its price.

Two incidents encapsulated what many saw as the Labour government's failure to "get" why so many people were worried about immigration.

In 2007 Gordon Brown promised "British jobs for British workers". It was an impossible promise to keep, with the free movement of people within the European Union.

Mr Brown then famously described a pensioner from Rochdale, Gillian Duffy, as a "bigot" after she raised immigration with him during the general election campaign.

Ed Miliband acknowledged Labour got it wrong and in so doing alienated some of their core supporters.

Expect him to take this message to key seats he will need to win back for Labour if he is ever to be prime minister.

"By focusing exclusively on immigration's impact on growth, we lost sight of who was benefiting from that growth - whose living standards were being squeezed. We became disconnected from the concerns of working people."

He said Labour had told people concerned about the biggest peacetime migration to the UK to "like it or lump it" and that the public had been "ahead of us" on the issue.

Many in the party blamed the effects on immigration, including the lowering of wages and pressures on social services, for the scale of Labour's defeat in the 2010 general election.

Acknowledging that this was a factor, Mr Miliband said some employers had a "nasty, brutish and short-term" attitude to taking on staff, leading to greater exploitation of overseas and British workers.

He added that cutting numbers of immigrants was part of the solution but "not enough". He also accused the government of being unrealistic in saying it will limit net migration to "tens of thousands", as the vast majority of those coming to the UK were from EU countries.

Instead he promised measures including:

  • Forcing medium and large employers to declare if more than a quarter of their workforce is foreign, so that gaps in training British workers can be addressed, allowing them better to compete
  • Banning employment agencies from taking on only overseas workers
  • Extending the scope of the Gangmasters Licensing Authority to all sectors where workers are being exploited
  • Setting up an early-warning system, run by the Migration Advisory Council, to highlight areas where the workforce is "dominated by low-wage labour from other countries"
  • Identifying where British jobseekers need better training
  • Tougher legislation on the minimum wage, with a doubling of the fine from £5,000 to £10,000 for those who break the law

He said he would not make "promises that can not be kept" on cutting immigration from within the EU, which is beyond the control of British governments.

But he would seek ways to "level" the playing field for British workers in the jobs market.

And he vowed that a future Labour government would introduce "maximum transitional controls" to limit migration if the EU expanded to include more countries.

Referring to the phrase used by Mr Brown as prime minister, Mr Miliband said: "We are not calling for 'British jobs for British workers' because you can't do that and we shouldn't promise it."

The Labour leader said there was "nothing wrong with anyone employing Polish builders, Swedish childminders or French chefs".

But he added: "The problem we need to address is in those areas and sectors where local talent is locked out of opportunity."

Immigration figures

  • Net migration is around 80,000 higher, or one and a half times what it was 10 years ago
  • Net migration from outside the EU is 25,000, or 1.1 times higher than 10 years ago
  • Net migration from the EU is 67,000, or 10 times higher than it was 10 years ago
  • Source: BBC Research

For the Conservatives, immigration minister Damian Green said: "Until Ed Miliband supports the government's measures to cut and control immigration, Labour will have no credibility at all.

"Under his leadership, Labour have opposed our aim to get annual net migration down to the tens of thousands, and they have opposed the cap on economic migration, our changes to student visas and our reforms to family visas.

"They refuse to admit that immigration is too high, and they refuse to say immigration needs to come down."

Shailesh Vara, the Conservative MP for North West Cambridgeshire, called for an apology from Mr Miliband.

He said: "Ed Miliband could actually start apologising to people such as myself and other Conservatives who in the past have tried to talk about immigration in a measured and sensitive way, but whenever we've tried to do that we've been accused of racism by the Labour Party."

Sir Andrew Green, head of the Migration Watch think tank, told the BBC that Labour's "real concern is that they've lost an awful lot of their own supporters, who of course are the people who, mainly, suffer the consequences of immigration on this scale, in terms of social housing and so on and so forth".

But he added: "I think the other thing that was wrong with this discussion is that there's been a lot of focus on EU migration.

"The reality is this - in the Labour years there was net foreign immigration of three and a half million. Only one in five of those was actually from the European Union."


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  • rate this

    Comment number 977.

    A lot of immigration is very good for the UK - for example the overseas students who attend our universities and keep fees down for home students.
    But PC intolerance meant immigration became an impossible subject to discuss calmly: anyone who had reservations had to 'like it or lump it'.
    And now we have the proposal of gay marriage, which is complex and problematic - but we must like it or lump it

  • Comment number 976.

    This comment was removed because the moderators found it broke the house rules. Explain.

  • rate this

    Comment number 975.

    what has happened to the bbc what have you done with him,
    this cannot last,
    as a white single male employed person,
    it feels great to have my voice heard in government again,
    mine and thousands of others like me who were screaming at the government to change their tack ,
    is this the tip of the ice berg
    and could we be listened to more and more
    instead of being told we know best as brown did

  • rate this

    Comment number 974.

    We need a good definition of 'overseas'. Did I read correctly recently that London could be 6 largest city for french people living here??
    Anyone coming in this country from outside EU cannot claim benefits for at least 5 years, have to pay triple fees in studies, pay expensive visa fees, pass english testetc
    EU national doesnt have to go through the above..
    Conclusion: stop blaming non-EU people

  • rate this

    Comment number 973.

    969. MoneyObserver
    Disagree with you Name Number 6
    I think Robert Maxwell was a worse immigrant than Rupert Murdoch.
    God I'd forgotten about that crook, its about time British media was only allowed to be owned by British Citizens.

  • rate this

    Comment number 972.

    This was nauseating! This is the party that tried to stifle debate about immigration & shouted racist at anyone who questioned their politically motivated, 'open door' policy. Now, after losing that debate, Ed pretends to be sorry & now says the same things that they labelled racist.

    Labour aren't sorry at all, & they still believe working class objectors to be bigots.

  • rate this

    Comment number 971.

    933.The Ace Face
    "I get the feeling when people talk about foreigners what they really mean are black people"
    Can't remember seeing many black Poles, Slovakians & Czechs, but then again, that wouldn't fit in with your agenda, would it? Textbook method for shutting down any debate about immigration; call it racism, and anybody who disagrees with your opinion is automatically racist by association.

  • rate this

    Comment number 970.

    @963 Cardinal Fang "...demonising immigrants."
    I don't think you read the same article as the rest of us!

  • rate this

    Comment number 969.

    Disagree with you Name Number 6
    I think Robert Maxwell was a worse immigrant than Rupert Murdoch.

    Maxwell took the hospitality of British naturilisation and betrayed this by robbing from British pensioners, finally revealing that his loyalty was to Israel all along.

  • rate this

    Comment number 968.

    Britain was very sucessful as a melting pot. The failed multicultural experiment traded that melting pot in for a salad bowl where the contents thrown together never truly mix. We cannot keep throwing ingredients into that overflowing bowl in the vain hope that they will.

  • Comment number 967.

    This comment was removed because the moderators found it broke the house rules. Explain.

  • rate this

    Comment number 966.

    #956. johnbournemouth
    'All I know is that I have Grandchildren who can never hope to to ever get on the housing ladder as things are - why ?'

    Because we live under an economic system that puts competitive short-term wealth accumulation for a few above the needs of the many. It's called Capitalism, the Tories love it, Labour panders to it.

    Read the Communist Manifesto, that will tell you 'why'

  • rate this

    Comment number 965.

    Noticeable that he only mentions workers from the EU. Many high skill jobs such as in IT go to people from outside the EU. Yet politicians claim that such industries like IT are the future for our country.

  • rate this

    Comment number 964.

    Name Number 6
    2 Minutes ago

    The worst immigrant this Country has ever had to endure was Rupert Murdoch.

    He corrupted British society with his bile and when it suited him took the American flag of convenience.
    no this country England had to endure Gordon brown
    far worse than Murdoch

  • rate this

    Comment number 963.

    It's sad that Labour has jumped on the "demonising immigrants" bandwagon

    Government stats show that immigrants work more, pay their taxes but use health + social services services less than Brits

    Businesses, universities + the scientific sector say that current restrictions on immigration is causing major harm to them

    It's time we realised that welcoming immigrants will benefit us all

  • rate this

    Comment number 962.

    I won't listen to you Ed until you say something about emigration - YOURS!

  • rate this

    Comment number 961.

    The worst immigrant this Country has ever had to endure was Rupert Murdoch.

    He corrupted British society with his bile and when it suited him took the American flag of convenience.

  • rate this

    Comment number 960.

    I think we will see a Labour leadership contest quite soon. The party may be the last to understand what everyone already knew but they cann't fail to notice that the nation now just laughs at their leader and his bandwagon of tainted buffoons.

    Can we have a strong leader next please, and not another one of the old guard, we need good opposition to hold the current government to account.

  • rate this

    Comment number 959.

    Most politicians are in bed with business (that's why they end up as directors on the boards of companies they help (coruption), they don't want to represent the voting public only those that give them donations, i know what i would call it. It is all about driving down wages and making you work till your 70 to keep the greedy and power hungry in the luxury that they are accustomed to.

  • rate this

    Comment number 958.

    933.The Ace Face
    6 Minutes ago
    I work in immigration and have read through a lot of the posts on here. I feel ashamed to be British.

    Well I DON'T - it has nothing to do with colour - it has to do with attitude, culture and religious belief. OURS.
    This country has accepted millions of immigrants over many years.
    The problem is recent - and now we are full up.


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