Labour activists force frontbench U-turn against Immigration Bill

28 January 2019

Tonight the House of Commons voted 297 to 234 for the second reading of the Tories’ Immigration Bill. This means that it progresses to the committee stage for potential amendments before a final vote to pass it into law.

The Bill would end free movement for EU citizens and subject them to UK immigration control. Rather than having Parliament specify what the new regime will be, it would hand over a blank cheque to Ministers who will be able to write and re-write the law themselves – so-called “Henry VIII powers”. The Government’s White Paper last month signalled some of their intentions – a brutal attack on the rights and security of migrants, especially working-class migrants (more detail here).

We believe Labour must uncompromisingly take a stand against this wholesale racist assault. So we were dismayed by Shadow Home Secretary Diane Abbott’s statement this afternoon that Labour would whip its MPs to abstain on the Bill. Despite levelling harsh criticism of the Bill, she said that Labour would not seek to block it outright because the party accepted that “when Britain leaves the single market, freedom of movement ends”, and instead would seek merely to amend it at the later committee stage.

However, an enormous outcry from Labour activists on social media, as well as objections from Labour MPs, forced a rapid shift. Less than two hours later, the Labour whip was once again to vote against the Bill!

We cannot know if firmer and more consistent opposition from the outset could have derailed the Bill, by turning out a larger proportion of our MPs and pulling more Tory MPs to rebel against it. But Labour members and supporters deserve credit for pulling our party back from a rightward slide.

Today’s events show the importance, and the potential power, of a grassroots voice within Labour for migrant rights and free movement. We must make sure that voice is louder than ever as the Bill progresses further through Parliament. So now is the time to help build the Labour Campaign for Free Movement! It’s up to all of us, so please take action today:


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