Corbyn’s defence of immigration splits shadow cabinet

Jeremy Corbyn has mounted a forceful defence of immigration from the EU and elsewhere before his party conference speech, causing a fresh split in his shadow cabinet.The Labour leader is expected to use his speech to promise a Labour government will not “sow division” by promising to cut immigration.

His position suggests Labour will not respond to the Brexit vote by seeking curbs on free movement of people across the EU, but senior shadow cabinet ministers have said there must be controls and the current system is in chaos.Speaking on BBC Radio 4 on Wednesday morning, Corbyn said he understood “the problems that can come in some areas”, which is why he would create a “migrant impact fund” to ease pressure on public services.

He added: “Migrants that have come to this country make an enormous contribution to it. Our conference understands that and Tom Watson put that case very well about the work that migrants have done in the NHS and education and other industries … we should live with that but also understand the number of British people.”Pointing out that numbers vary from year to year, Corbyn said there were many industries such as farming that depended on migrant labour.

Asked if people should stop worrying about immigration, he said: “We have to allay people’s concerns about the impact … and recognise the huge contribution made to our economy and the numbers of people working in the NHS that are pretty crucial to the survival of the NHS.”Corbyn suggested the UK should continue to accept free movement from the EU, while maintaining access to the single market on the same basis as other member states.

But some of his frontbench allies were already striking a different tone, including Angela Rayner, the shadow education secretary, and Andy Burnham, the shadow home secretary.In a conference intervention, Burnham will say: “Labour must face up fully to this fact: millions of our lifelong supporters voted to leave the EU and voted for change on immigration.”

Corbyn repeatedly said during the referendum campaign that he did not believe Britain should seek to cut immigration. The Labour leader will tell conference on Wednesday: “A Labour government will not offer false promises. We will not sow division or fan the flames of fear. We will instead tackle the real issues of immigration – and make the changes that are needed.”

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