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 817.

    Cont. Re Ilf. Is this a back door way to let more planning go ahead to in fact build more house for a new town. Ilfracombe will suffer,probably die. Most houses will in fact be used as holiday homes, so little income or support for area.
    Re Germany query. Point is people take responsibilty for their lives, over here where Labour encouraged living off the state by overpopulation,& state provides

  • rate this

    Comment number 816.

    I thought the generally accepted idea was that we all came from Africa.

  • rate this

    Comment number 815.

    Wonder why your salary/wage is suppressed? Wonder why schools are bunged with kids who don't speak english? Wonder why the maternity wards are bunged? Wonder why there are thousands of applicants for jobs? Wonder why foreign criminals can't be deported? Then start by wondering why you voted Labour and resolve never to do it again.

  • rate this

    Comment number 814.

    It's going to be a really busy time for Milliband if he is going to start admittting 'Labour got it wrong' about all of their calamitous mistakes when in office.

  • Comment number 813.

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

  • rate this

    Comment number 812.

    About 3 years ago where I live eastern european immagrants were rife here in my area (Middle class area). The flat above us at the time had at least 7 people living in a 2 bedroom flat. Vacumced packed brand new furniture brought in for them on a lorry. We had no idea who lived there - different occupiers every week. Labour said this was not happeing. We saw it for are own eyes.

  • rate this

    Comment number 811.

    Employers are taking advantage of immigrants to fill the factories with low payed workers who will work all hours and accept poor conditions. Every immigrant is potentially another young british person out of work. And were talking 300,000+ an year. Ever wonder why employers dont train anyone and why domestic unemployment is so high 8Million plus ?

  • rate this

    Comment number 810.

    Labour have probably had some sort of strategy meeting and realised that (for the time being, at least) the white working class vote is too important to their hopes of re-election so they'd better make some sympathetic noises. Surely Labour should have had all of the above measures in place before they opened the floodgates as well as altering benefit and housing rules. It's too late now.

  • rate this

    Comment number 809.

    784. Loony Liberal -

    Read my post immigration drives up costs - one lower paid immigrant with gold plated education, health and social benefits plus one additional person on benefits.

    Also Labour did have the opportunity to slow down immigration from Eastern Europe but elected not to do this.

  • rate this

    Comment number 808.

    Is it my imagination or are we having a sensible and balanced debate about immigration? Debate is healthy - just give it some thought before rattling out the usual jingoistic nonsense. We seem to define Britishness by what we aren't, its time we looked at what we are and celebrated that. I'm off to drive my mini to a cricket match and eat a cream tea - in the rain!

  • rate this

    Comment number 807.

    Each immigrant that comes to the UK that earns less than about £30k is a net drain on the taxpayer, more if they have large families.

    There are whole Brit families who have been jobless for literally *generations*. Seems like a higher priority to me.

    Most people in the UK don't earn £30Kpa, so I think you might need to look at that too.

  • rate this

    Comment number 806.

    #784. Loony Liberal -
    'Capitalism is great huh?'

    You are right, Free movement of Labour and the ability to source the cheapest is an essential part of Global Capitalism.

    The simple categorisation of anyone who is opposed to immigration as a bigot is moronic.

    The real issue is sustainability, Capitalism is at odds with that concept.

    Whatever the economic system we need population control.

  • rate this

    Comment number 805.

    People in this country are just way too picky about what job they want and feel that certain jobs are beneath them. Look at the Greek Psychology graduate who worked for the government; he's now working on a fish stand at a market.
    People in the UK just feel they are 'entitled' to everything and don't realise you have to work and sometimes that means doing the things you don't like doing.

  • rate this

    Comment number 804.

    Why can't people admit that the British are not willing to work as long or as hard as other nations, when it comes to lower paid work? I realise that of course this isn't true of all British people, but throughout my working life, foreign workers have always been more reliable, harder working and generally nicer people.

    It's a shame, but it's also the truth.

  • rate this

    Comment number 803.

    all these politicians are the same. Say one thing (which is popular, or they think is popular) when they are out of power, then do what best benefits them when they are in power.

  • rate this

    Comment number 802.

    786.John1948 I'm on Welfare Benefits and can't afford to eat and drink in Restaurants and Bars, lucky I can eat at all, especially what with attitudes to paying Benefits, so I'm sure u r right.

  • rate this

    Comment number 801.

    Other things Ed Milliband's Labour to apologise for is that Great 10 Year Transport Plan by John Prescott back in 1997 that never was. The lies over mass weapons of destuction in Iraq and the resulting wars in Iraq & Afghanistan despite the 2 miliion people protesting in Hyde Park. Now it's too late for all and sorry is such an easy word to say when it no longer suits their political agenda.

  • rate this

    Comment number 800.

    Could we now start sending some immigrants - especially the illegal ones - back to where they came from? This is a small country and its already to full. Also there should be a limit on EU immigrants as well - if this needs a referendum then give us one!

  • rate this

    Comment number 799.

    On average, Immigrants pay more tax than indigenous people. And they lower the average age, which supports our beleaguered pension funds.

    With the deficit so large, can we really afford to be this fussy?

  • rate this

    Comment number 798.

    Blair tried to suck up to the middle/upper classes providing their businesses with cheap immigrant labour, which has backfired on Labour.

    However, it has suited employers, the double whammy, cheap imported labour & moving businesses to countries with cheap labour.

    Does anyone believe the Tories would have or are doing anything differently. Big business runs this country for it's own profit.


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