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 377.

    "Le Bloke
    I'm not. Check the polls. I'm right. You're wrong. And Labour know it. Hence M/band's speech."

    I was making no comment on the validity of the polls only questioning your right to speak for anyone but yourself. You really must enrol yourself on that course on English comprehension.

  • rate this

    Comment number 376.

    @ 354.Where did my name go

    "Loss of British jobs is about work ethic, not country of origin."

    No - its about a benefits culture created by Labour which allows anyone to sit at home drinking full-strength larger and watching Sky tv all day while us that work pay for it. This included many immigrants who were aslo able to claim benefits to send to their families overseas.

  • rate this

    Comment number 375.

    55,000 immigrants turning up on the Isle of Wight this weekend.

    I'd rather them than me mind. Look at the weather! :-)

  • rate this

    Comment number 374.


    There is one opinion I've heared, can not prove but tend to believe - that disabled staff are actually more loyal than able bodied counterparts (as a general rule). The thinking behind this is that when they obtain a job they appreciate it far more & so the relationship benefits both employer & employee.
    I hope you find your job & prove this true.

  • rate this

    Comment number 373.

    We need a political party that will stand up to Europe and say that the free movement of labour does not work for the UK. Our people are greatly disadvantaged and it is unfair. We need to stop EU immigration and send back the 2 million Poles, Latvians, Estonians etc and give our own 2 million unemployed the jobs they have taken. We could solve many problems by doing this.

  • rate this

    Comment number 372.

    Milliband was obviously watching Question time last when someone in the audience suggested to Andy Burnham that Labour get off the fence & state what they would do rather than reveal everything in 2015. Yes we need people to do the lesser paid jobs & our European cousins have been paid very low wages, by some, pushing UK people out of consideration. Yet another fine mess they got us into!

  • rate this

    Comment number 371.

    The BNP was supported by upto 10% of the British people, they have also been elected to the EP. Yes their leadership and some of their policies are outdated, but new parties and the EDL have in some ways replaced them. These brave Britons are helping defend our shores from politicians and Companies who would use overseas labour to oppress British people.

  • rate this

    Comment number 370.

    Foreign workers are not just in low paid jobs that UK nationals avoid.Many work in libraries,hospitals,gp offices etc & come here just to claim child benefit etc,go home and keep getting the dosh! Or they claim it with their kids living back home.I work in that field and know it happens.The million jobs lost to these people are gone forever & it is a bit late to try & close the stable doors now

  • rate this

    Comment number 369.

    "313 MonsterMuncgh"

    So, retired Brits in Spain place no burden on their healthcare system, their care systems, on their infrastructure etc? They certainly drove up housing costs so the Spanish were priced out of the housing market or took risky loans.

    If you meant anything other than the accepted definition of "open border" you should have made that clear.

  • rate this

    Comment number 368.

    At the time the situation was out of control , everyone knew there was too many people arriving , too many also seeking asylum and too many bogus students . The alarm bells were being rung loud and clear , its an apology but its way to late . I wonder if in 5 years or more we will hear , ' we was wrong to sell the gold reserves , wrong on PFI and wrong on public spending .

  • rate this

    Comment number 367.

    Too late with the croc tears Miliband
    Must be an election in the offing!

  • rate this

    Comment number 366.

    Labour only thought 13000 people would come to the UK from Eastern Europe ? Either they are very stupid or had an ulterior motive. The entire population of Poland etc. can move over here any time it wants and we can't stop them ! And as to British workers being given a "level playing field" ! If a qualified UK national applies for any job they should have priority.

  • rate this

    Comment number 365.

    "..we got it wrong.." has it really taken all these years to realise this glaringly obvious truth? Nice to see that Mr Charisma has the stones to admit Labour were wrong, but I aint buying it. Seems too convenient.

  • rate this

    Comment number 364.

    The poor worth ethic of many young British people is part of the reason why immigrants are so appealing to employers, but it doesn't help when the difference between benefits and minimum wage is so small. Increasing the minimum wage and reducing benefits, plus encouraging study and apprenticeships (more than enough to get by on as it is) would be a better 2-pronged strategy than flooding us.

  • rate this

    Comment number 363.

    Although the UK has a pop density of 255,England is where most people live and we have a pop density of 400, expected to rise above 450 in the coming years. This puts us well clear at the top of the EU27 for pop density. It might not be the crush that some people claim but its crowded all right. Perhaps oil rich , socialist Scotland will be an attractive alternative for immigrants post 2015....

  • rate this

    Comment number 362.


    Thanks for telling us something we all already knew, and while you're on a bit of a role admitting Labour's mistakes, why not take this opportunity to admit how your party screwed the economy too!

  • rate this

    Comment number 361.

    //Centres for Stuff I Heard from Some Guy
    2 Minutes ago
    "Le Bloke
    Vast majority of public opinion, and postings here, are hostile to immigration."

    I'd suggest you stick to expressing your personal views, not claim to speak for the "vast majority".//

    I'm not. Check the polls. I'm right. You're wrong. And Labour know it. Hence M/band's speech.

  • rate this

    Comment number 360.

    Foreign workers are mostly decent & hard working. They cite reasons for coming as that even the low paid jobs they are in here pay about 4 times what they get in their home country. This is a good motivation for them. They are able to survive (& save up) on these poor wages by living together.

    The reason why uk workers arent as motivated is these wage levels are mostly unlivable for individuals.

  • rate this

    Comment number 359.

    Labour's immigration policy has been detrimental to the UK as many immigrants fail to integrate into society. My local high street is full of shops more appropriate to foreign bazzars with people in the street speaking languages other than English. If you live in the UK, English should be the spoken language for all citizens in public. Integration cannot succeed without a common language.

  • rate this

    Comment number 358.

    As for me I have tried many times to get work but because I have bladder cancer and 100% incontinent I have found it really hard to get a job at all, everyone runs a mile from me.Unfortunately for me I don't get benefits at all not ill enough apparently not well enough to get a job, then you get many say that uk people don't want work - well i disagree because their are people like me that do!!


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