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 857.

    I live in Liverpool, plenty of cornershops and chipshops on the high streets but go inside and you'll have a hard time finding British workers. Why? Because they don't hire British workers, they hire from their own communities.A friend of mine works in a chipshop and the employers were asking for a Chinese worker who spoke English to answer the phone, not an English worker.

    Fix this practise.

  • rate this

    Comment number 856.

    Millband critcises one of the only places where his predecessors stood for Labour values.... Fail

  • rate this

    Comment number 855.

    Labour just don't have a clue.

    They never have and they never will.

    They run the country into debt and disaster every time, then wait until somebody else sorts it out so they can con the electorate with false promises and get in again ....... to start the same vicious circle.

  • rate this

    Comment number 854.

    It's like Yahoo on here with all these unmoderated racist comments. I feel quite disgusted.

  • rate this

    Comment number 853.

    Milliband has yet to "get it". We don't want to know what his Party thinks about immigration whether it agrees that it got it wrong previously or not. As with his general criticisms, some of us want to know exactly what hisprospective government intends to do about it. Hiding intentions to avoid parliamentary espionage is a futile, idiotic way to run a country.

  • rate this

    Comment number 852.

    843. chartier
    What made America great? Poor immigrants with fire in their belly.
    Or ruthless exploitation of vast natural resources to the detriment of of the indigenous people.

  • rate this

    Comment number 851.

    Ed Milliband or anyone else won't control immigration because we don't have control of our country. Brussells is in control of nearly everything we do . Parliament and those elected to it are just no more effective than a local council. The only way to make a difference is to become independant of the EU and let us have self determination for our own people. Independence for the UK is a must.

  • rate this

    Comment number 850.

    @836 Modharry
    It will be soup kitchens for those also working.

  • rate this

    Comment number 849.

    As an American I just can't get what the hell "Britishness" means ? Britain is an island inhabited by many ethnic groups, nations who fought each other for centuries and even now they want a referendum on independence. According to the Oxford Dictionary "nation" means:a large body of people united by common descent, history, culture. Britain just doesn't fit in and it never did either.

  • rate this

    Comment number 848.

    I think that everyone who is not descended from Bodecia's tribe ...
    You are truly IGNORANT. The Iceni were but One of over 3 dozen tribes on Great Briton alone, not counting those on the other British Isles.
    You know nothing of the Catuvellauni or the Brigantes or the Trinovantes or any of the others who formed the basis of modern British Peoples.

  • rate this

    Comment number 847.

    We are in the ridiculous situation of having millions of British people out of work and yet-for the past decade at least-we have been importing Labour. What would the founders of the Labour Party such as Kier Hardie and Ramsay MacDonald have said about that?

  • rate this

    Comment number 846.

    There are some really constructive comments from both sides, i knew this would just be an excuse for people to voice their uneducated and quite vile opinions on immigrants. The street where i live is maybe around 25% immigrants from eastern european nations and they are the most polite and kind people i have ever met. So i suggest people stick to economic arguments rather than just spouting hatred

  • rate this

    Comment number 845.

    #843 who says america is great?

  • rate this

    Comment number 844.

    Four little words for you, Mr Miliband:

    "We told you so!"

  • Comment number 843.

    All this user's posts have been removed.Why?

  • rate this

    Comment number 842.


    Depend on what you think you're worth really doesn't it?

    Are you only worth £6.10 an hour?

    Because I know I'm worth more than that.

    Let them hire the unqualified eastern europeans, you get what you pay for.

    Meanwhile, the VERY SAME rich employers that won't pay a decent worker a decent wage, pays a lot more in benefits via taxes, due to the unemployment they cause.

    Clever bunch :)

  • rate this

    Comment number 841.

    The simple fact is that for anyone living here now, regardless of skin colour or ethnic origin, more people = more competition for limited resources and driving down of living conditions.

    Short termism, driven by Capitalisms need to make a quick buck regardless of consequence, will sink us. The Tories really don't care..they will be alright (they imagine) and Labour spout populist

  • rate this

    Comment number 840.

    Of course they knew what they were doing back then. The simple fact is than neither government give a monkeys about the British worker. Their immigration policies fed the greed of corporate business whilst at the same time trampling on the rights of British workers that our parents and grandparents fought so hard for.

  • rate this

    Comment number 839.

    Well Ed' if you want any chance of future 'power' in this country you had better DO something.... Unbounded immigration and youth, disabled (and anyone else out of work) unemployment leaves this nation in a bl....y mess....Lib/Dems please note. We need limits from Europe as well as from the rest of the world. For the time being 'we are full'. Let's consolidate and REFLECT for a few years.

  • rate this

    Comment number 838.

    Whether we like it or not, we are witnessing the changing face of a nation.

    Politicians have become competitors on the world stage eg - G20, etc., etc. No longer do they seem to have the concern of 'nation' first/foremost.

    The Press, like gov't, has changed too - mediocre.

    Keep calm and carry on.


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