Diane Abbott tweeted a link today to the LabourList write-up of the immigration motion passing at conference, with the note: “I fully support the policy to ‘Maintain and extend free movement rights’”.
The Shadow Home Secretary added: “The Labour Party is committed to maintaining & extending Freedom of Movement rights. But the Tories will remove those rights from the EU 3 Million. We will maintain them…
“The Tories break up families by barring spouses of British citizens, via an income requirement. Labour will scrap it, and extend Freedom of Movement rights to all those legally entitled to be here, including our own citizens among others.”
This looks like Labour has shifted towards backing free movement. But significant wiggle room has been left. The specific reference to the “the EU 3 million” is a sign that there could be some difference in the way that Labour policies apply to current EU nationals living in the UK compared to all EU nationals.
One of the headline offers to pro-immigration activists is certain to be family reunification rights, with Labour vowing to scrap the minimum income threshold for non-EU spouses and children.
But to what extent continued freedom of rights would apply in a post-Brexit scenario to all EU nationals – not just those living here already – is uncertain. Labour could offer a review of the detention estate, oppose Tory immigration legislation and back an unconditional right to family reunion, without guaranteeing total freedom of movement post-Brexit.
After all, Corbyn has remarked today that the immigration policy motion passed at conference “doesn’t necessarily form part of the manifesto” – despite earlier in the campaign promoting the benefits of free movement.
Labour is being deliberately unclear: it still doesn’t want to either anger party activists or play into the hands of the Tories. Jeremy Corbyn could end up going the whole hog, and back FOM unambiguously. But Labour has not yet announced its policy – for that, we must wait for the ‘Clause V’ manifesto meeting on Saturday.