Questions for the contenders: responses so far

Posted: 29 January 2020

On January 13, we emailed all leadership and deputy leadership candidates with eight questions about immigration policy. You can find the questionnaire here.

We will be publishing all responses here as we receive them.

Responses so far:

Candidates for Leader

Keir Starmer:

Thank you for getting in touch regarding the Labour leadership campaign and for everything you do to help tackle discrimination and defend migrants’ rights. Britain is economically, culturally and socially richer as a result of immigration. We should celebrate this and the huge contribution migration has made to our country. If I am elected leader of the Labour Party, I will always defend migrants’ rights and make the positive case for immigration.

We must never accept the Tory or media narrative that often scapegoats and demonises migrants. Problems of low pay, housing and public services are not caused by migrants – they are caused by a failed economic model. We must never lose sight of that, which is why I am proud to have served as Jeremy’s Shadow Immigration Minister as we began to change the way the Labour Party
speaks about immigration.

As Shadow Brexit Secretary for the last three years, I have always made the case for defending migrants’ rights, including the 3 million EU nationals living in the EU and the more than 1 million UK nationals living in the EU27. It has been shameful that successive Tory Prime Ministers have used citizens’ rights as a bargaining chip in Brexit negotiations, but I am proud of the role that Labour has played in standing up for citizens’ rights.

In response to the questions you raise:
Free movement has been hugely beneficial – both to the UK and the EU. It has allowed millions of EU and UK citizens to live, travel, study and work across the EU. EU citizens have and continue to make an invaluable contribution to our public services such as our NHS. I believe that should be protected as we leave the EU, and I am very concerned at the impact that Johnson’s plans to end free movement will inevitably have on our economy, migrants’ rights and the freedom for people to work and live in the EU27. Labour need to be clear and vocal in our support for migrants’ rights as we leave the EU.

We also need to make the case for a more humane and effective international response to the refugee crisis. Labour need to press the Government on this at all opportunities, but while in Opposition, we can also strengthen solidarity and cooperation with our socialist sister parties across the EU and make a united case for reform.

I also believe that we need to fundamentally overhaul our entire immigration system – EU and non-EU. Our immigration system should be welcoming and compassionate – not cruel and oppressive. But for too long, the system has worked on the basis that it should penalise and deter migrants rather than provide support. The Windrush scandal, the shameful ‘Go Home Vans’ and the ‘hostile environment’ policies are all examples of this, but there are also many individual cases that are never reported but demonstrate all too clearly that our immigration system simply isn’t working.

One of the major reasons for this is the Tory obsession with chasing arbitrary, unenforceable and unachievable immigration targets. I would never adopt such a target-based approach to immigration. If I am elected as Labour leader, I will start work immediately on plans for radical change in the immigration system. No more hostile environment, no more demonising of migrants – but a system based on dignity and compassion.

As part of that, I support ending indefinite detention and closing immigration detention centres like Brook House and Yarl’s Wood. We also need to end the role of the private sector in the immigration system – it says everything about what is wrong with the moral foundations of our economy that private companies are making profits from detaining people.

We also need to address the serious problems with family reunion rules. People fleeing war or persecution should not face a lengthy and restrictive process to be reunited with family members. The more safe and legal routes to join family members in the UK, the fewer dangerous journeys people will make.

I also believe that we need to radically reform the asylum system, including by granting asylum seekers the right to work. I took the last Labour Government to court for cutting benefits for asylum seekers and if elected leader, I will continue to fight for an asylum and immigration system which offers dignity to all.

With regard to voting rights, Labour made an important step forward on this by arguing in our 2019 manifesto for significantly expanding the franchise. One of the ways we should do is to extend full voting rights to EU nationals – which is already the case for local authority elections – and voting rights for long-term UK residents.

For too long, Labour has been unwilling to speak about immigration and unable to set out a positive vision for a modern, welcome and compassionate immigration system. I believe that can change, and once I’m elected Labour leader, it will.

Best wishes,

Keir Starmer

Rebecca Long-Bailey:

Dear Labour Campaign for Freedom of Movement,

Apologies for not replying to your questions by the deadline you specified. Despite this, I wanted to make sure that I contacted you and your members so they have an understanding of my values and views on an issue as important as migrant rights.

The next five years under this Government are going to be crucial in deciding what immigration policy this country has as our relationship with Europe and the rest of the world is decided. We have to hold this Government to account not just on the rights we have, but the rights as a labour movement we feel people should have. We have already seen this government cruelly attack the rights of unaccompanied child refugees to be reunited with their families here in our country. The Windrush scandal continues to claim victims – people who have lived and worked here for decades and are British citizens. We need to be firm in defending the rights of EU nationals living here, and British people living abroad, and not allow the government to continue using EU nationals living here as bargaining chips.

These are all warning signals of the fight we have over the coming years.

I’ve been clear that as Labour Leader there will be no return to ‘Controls on Immigration’ mugs. Our immigration policy must be based on our values – not numerical targets. As a country we need a humane immigration policy, an end to the hostile environment, and to always meet our international obligations to welcome refugees.

As the far right and racism continue to grow, here and across Europe, we must be firm in opposing hate crime and any attempt to scapegoat migrants for the pressure our public services and social security are under and the housing crisis we face; crises the Conservatives have created through cuts and inaction. The impact of this scapegoating is not just felt by migrants themselves, but also by our Black and Asian communities as racism is fuelled.

The government’s nurturing of insecure work and attacks on our trade union and employment rights has made it even easier for predatory employers to exploit migrant workers. I stand by our manifesto commitments to create stronger trade union and employment rights and their enforcement to prevent the exploitation of all workers, including measures such as reinstating the Domestic Workers Visa.

We should all pay tribute to the work of Diane Abbott as Shadow Home Secretary in fighting the government on the Windrush scandal, visiting Yarls Wood and calling for its closure. As a party we must of course oppose the cruelty of detention centres, closing them and looking at alternatives that reflect our values. Our party has a duty to support human rights such as rights to family reunion, voting rights for long term residents and access to services, and opposing measures that stigmatise and leave people in destitution, including ending the ‘no recourse to public funds’. Public services and those working in other support services such as health, education, homelessness and others must not be border guards. We also need to end the privatisation in our justice, immigration and border systems; and properly fund specialist services such as those to identify and support, not criminalise, trafficking victims.

As well as supporting asylum seekers and refugees, and recognising many are fleeing dangerous and traumatic situations, we need to look at the drivers. Too often our country has been a cause of political instability and war – and then refused to help the people who are forced to flee, including refusing to help those so desperate they have felt their only option is to take to the sea. It is a disgrace that after participating in the war on Libya, us and other European countries refused to help Libyans fleeing and sea rescues ended. As Labour leader I believe we must have peace, justice and human rights and international law at the centre of our foreign policy as well as a humanitarian response to asylum seekers and refugees. In the future we will increasingly see people having to escape the impact of our climate breakdown around the world. As a society we must lead the discussion in finding global solutions to these growing challenges – challenges that cannot be met by a Trump agenda of building walls.

Awaiting responses from Emily Thornberry and Lisa Nandy.

Candidates for Deputy Leader

Ian Murray:

Defend and extend free movement: opposing any reduction in the freedoms of UK and EU citizens to live, work, and access social security in each others’ countries, and any immigration system based on incomes, migrants’ utility to business, and number caps or targets.

Freedom of movement has transformed our economy for the better and it is devastating that opportunities for young people both here and across Europe are now being taken away by the Tories.

As a co-chair of the Labour Campaign for the Single Market, I believe passionately in the right to free movement across the European Union. I worked with many of my colleagues in parliament in recent years to prevent exactly what will now happen under a majority Tory government. Unfortunately, it is the most disadvantaged people in our communities who will pay the highest price for our defeat.

The Labour Party should never be ashamed of standing up for our internationalist values, and as Deputy Leader I will continue to make the case for an open, outward-looking country. As the most pro-Europe candidate in this contest, I believe we shouldn’t rule out campaigning to go back into the EU if it’s in the national interest, and I plan to launch a Labour Campaign for Britain’s Future with internationalism and solidarity at its heart.

It’s particularly important that we support the rights of EU citizens, not just now but over the coming months and years, to prevent discrimination against anyone who has the right to live and work in this country.

We should never be ashamed of defending and promoting immigration.

Close every detention centre

We should be treating people who come to the UK with the dignity and respect they deserve.

If we want to be an outward-looking open country that is welcoming to the world, we should challenge the Tories’ ‘hostile environment’ policy.

The power of detention should always be a last resort and the system must always have dignity at its heart – which means not detaining vulnerable people such as trafficking victims or pregnant women. Sadly, it is used far too frequently by the authorities for all the wrong reasons. We must ask if it is truly necessary to do it at all.

Detaining people for months on end is not only inhumane, it is hugely expensive for taxpayers and must stop.

With hundreds of cases of wrongful detention, the public has also lost trust in the system.
An expert review of the UK’s detention centres is required to determine how many can be closed and how quickly they can be closed.

Unconditional rights to family reunion

No government should be tearing families apart. We have to stand up for the rights of migrants and their families. I support the right to a reunion for all families and have voted for such a move on numerous occasions.

But standing up for a more humane policy is not enough. We have to win the next General Election so that we can deliver the change so many people in this country desperately need. An eight-seat Conservative majority doesn’t change these issues – it makes them worse.

End “no recourse to public funds” policies

It is a scandal that some of the most vulnerable people in the UK – including children – are prevented from receiving vital services. This unacceptable policy is cruel and short-sighted.

Migrating is an incredibly difficult and arduous process, particularly for those who are less well off. The government should never leave people who move to this country destitute.

Instead, we should be supporting migrants through what can be an incredibly difficult process as they build their lives here in the United Kingdom and encouraging them to live and work here so that they contribute to our economy and country in the future.

Oppose all Hostile Environment measures, use of landlords and public service providers as border guards, and restrictions on migrants’ NHS access

The Hostile Environment measures pursued by Priti Patel, and Theresa May before her, bring shame on our country. They are anathema to our Labour values.

Our NHS is a beacon to the world, and we should not shut the doors to anyone who needs healthcare. We should treat people with the same dignity and respect that we would expect to be treated in other countries.

But the sad reality is that it is only by forming a Labour government can we undo the damage done to our country, and our reputation, by a decade of Tory immigration policies.
In order to deliver that government, we have to listen to what the public told us in December, and change to win.

Equal voting rights for all UK residents

It’s clear that the constitutional settlement needs renewing. We have to put power in the hands of the people.
With devolution, started by Labour, we already have some electoral franchises based on residency, not just citizenship. In Scotland, all residents are able to vote in the Scottish Parliamentary elections for example.

If I’m elected Deputy Leader, I will which will examine our constitution and propose a new settlement that looks to the future. As part of that, we will consider whether all UK residents should have a right to vote in General Elections, which is a view I am inclined to support.

Please share your thoughts on these wider issues that our supporters also feel strongly about:
Even after Brexit, the UK government looks set to participate in Frontex (the European border agency) and its “Fortress Europe” policies. Will you challenge these policies?

As part of the constitutional convention I am proposing, we will explore not just the settlement in the UK, but our relationship with Europe and the rest of the world.
I believe very strongly that we should be fighting for Labour values of internationalism across the globe.

EU border proposals must always strike the right balance between protecting the EU’s external border management, welcoming migrants and refugees, and providing the necessary aid and support to ensure people don’t have the need to make treacherous journeys into Europe.

The reality is that we have now lost our place at Europe’s debating table where these vital issues are decided, so changing them is near impossible. But that is not to say we shouldn’t challenge them vociferously.

Will you oppose the ban on asylum seekers’ right to work?

Asylum seekers come to the UK from the most horrifying environment – fleeing war, terror or discrimination.

I believe that asylum seekers should have the right to work. It is otherwise incredibly difficult for people to build a life here and contribute to our economy, not least because many asylum seekers come from some of the poorest countries on earth with few opportunities.

Will you support an amnesty for undocumented migrants resident in the UK?

Our goal must always be to create a more inclusive society.

This issue requires expert input to ensure public confidence, but we can never have a repeat of the Windrush scandal.
Migrants need the vital protection of the state, particularly after Brexit, to prevent exploitation of workers.

Part of the problem of undocumented migrants is the impenetrable, unfair and expensive system that is in place.

I don’t fully know the answer to this question as I haven’t fully investigated and researched what would need to be done and why there are undocumented migrants in the UK. It is such an important issue that I wouldn’t wish to give a bland answer to an issue I don’t fully understand.

Angela Rayner:

During my time in Parliament and the Shadow Cabinet, I have always defended migrants themselves, and the wider principle of free movement, from right-wing attacks. Nigel Farage described his encounter with me on Question Time as his most unpleasant experience of the campaign – and frankly, I wear that description with pride as a badge of honour.

But we must now stand ready to defend those who have made our country their home from the threat posed by a right-wing Tory government and a hard Brexit. Our shared values of internationalism, solidarity and cooperation have benefitted from our close relationship with other European countries. That’s why I will always strongly defend the rights of all migrants who have chosen to live and work in Britain, and who contribute so importantly to our economy and public services – but also our
culture and the very fabric of our society.

As it becomes clear that Boris Johnson won’t deliver on his Brexit promises, we must hold him to account and offer a positive alternative. The Tory plan is for a Britain that competes outside the EU with lower wages for workers, bigger handouts for big business, and worse standards for everyone.

Labour can offer a better vision for Britain in a post-Brexit world. Where we own our infrastructure, protect our workers, set the highest standards and thrive by making and exporting the technology that can save our planet. That future is one in which we remain open and welcoming, and free movement of people goes alongside investment in skills, jobs and industries to benefit all who live in our country rather than us leading a race to the bottom. Developing that vision will be our biggest policy challenge, and as Deputy Leader I would make sure it was given the priority it deserves.

Rosena Allin-Khan:

1. Defend and extend free movement: opposing any reduction in the freedoms of UK and EU citizens to live, work, and access social security in each others’ countries, and any immigration system based on incomes, migrants’ utility to business, and number caps or targets. 

I am the very embodiment of the benefits free movement has brought – my mother is Polish and was able to come to this country and make a life for herself here. Under the draconian new immigration policies being discussed by this Tory government, she might never have been able to do that.

Protecting and extending free movement is at the very heart of my internationalist Labour principles. I believe our country is stronger and better because of free movement. When I work shifts as an A&E doctor in my local hospital, I work with NHS staff from across Europe and it breaks my heart to see many of them feeling unwanted or undervalued because of Brexit.

As Deputy Leader, I pledge to do everything in my power to promote the core Labour values of internationalism and solidarity across borders, because I believe human life has the same value no matter where someone comes from. That means defending and extending free movement, and it means fighting to protect the human rights of migrants from this hostile Tory government.

2. Close every detention centre

Holding migrants in detention centres, often in substandard conditions, is incredibly cruel and degrading. These are often vulnerable people, fleeing from a variety of horrific circumstances such as war, trafficking and poverty. They have the right to be treated with dignity, as human beings, as we would want ourselves or our family to be treated in such horrendous circumstances. When working abroad as a humanitarian doctor, I’ve seen first-hand some of the terrible conditions people are forced to endure in detention centres and it horrified me.

We must fight back against the hostile environment the Tories have created for migrants – the Labour Party has always stood for international solidarity and openness to the world – we need a Labour government to bring those principles back into the core of our approach to immigration.

I would want to listen to expert opinion on how to do this in a responsible way, but I certainly would want to close as many detention centres as possible and make sure we have an overall approach to immigration that means a concept as cruel as detention centres are not required in the first place.

3. Unconditional rights to family reunion

Yes, I fully support this. The unconditional right to family reunion is a fundamental element of treating migrants as human beings with dignity and equal value, rather than the Tory approach of seeing migrants as a problem to be managed. When I’ve worked as a humanitarian doctor in conflict zones across the world, it was always horrendous to see so many families ripped apart or prevented from seeing each other again. When I visited Palestine on a humanitarian mission, I saw sick children alone in hospital because the permit system meant their parents weren’t allowed to visit them. I immediately began working on ways to resolve this.

It’s not enough to just talk about this – we need to be working every day to deliver a Labour government so we can fix these kinds of injustices. That’s what I’d do as Deputy Leader.

4. End “no recourse to public funds” policies

I support ending such policies, yes. This is another case of a Tory government treating migrants not as human beings with human dignity and equal value, but instead as a problem to be managed through cruelty.

I want to deliver a Labour government with internationalism at its core, which would allow us to change our entire approach to migration, and begin seeing human life as equally valuable and equally dignified no matter where that person was born or where they’ve come from.

5. Oppose all Hostile Environment measures, use of landlords and public service providers as border guards, and restrictions on migrants’ NHS access

The Tory Hostile Environment approach to immigration is a stain on the soul of their party, and they should be ashamed of it. Tragedies such as the Windrush scandal are a horrendous demonstration of where this approach leads, and I worry a similar scandal could occur with EU citizens who’ve made their lives in this country.

I want a Labour government so we can end the Hostile Environment immediately and start treating migrants with the human dignity and respect they deserve.

6. Equal voting rights for all UK residents

I am certainly interested in all ideas for how to revitalise our democracy and increase the level of engagement with our political process. Indeed, prior to the General Election in 2019, I publicly called for EU citizens to get the right to vote. Our Labour values of openness and internationalism must be at the core of everything we do.

7. Please share your thoughts on these wider issues that our supporters also feel strongly about:
Even after Brexit, the UK government looks set to participate in Frontex (the European border agency) and its “Fortress Europe” policies. Will you challenge these policies?

I certainly think the EU has often failed dismally to strike the right balance between border security and solidarity with people fleeing from war, poverty and the effects of global climate change. I am a proud pro-European, but that doesn’t mean my view of the EU is uncritical and I’ve never been afraid to say so. My values of international solidarity and openness don’t stop at the borders of Europe – they extend across the whole world. Human life always has equal value, no matter where that person comes from.

Will you support an amnesty for undocumented migrants resident in the UK?

We should always treat people with compassion and dignity, and we must place those values at the heart of everything we do when it comes to immigration. People in this country without documentation are often asylum seekers fleeing from horrific conditions and I want to see them treated with the human dignity they deserve. I would want to listen in more detail to expert opinion and feedback on the specific question of whether an amnesty is the right approach, but the principles of human dignity and compassion must always guide everything we do.

Anything else you’d like Labour members, supporters and affiliates to know about what your leadership/deputy leadership would mean for migrants and migration policy?

I am the living, breathing proof that free movement is a wonderful benefit to our country. My Polish mother was able to come to this country and make a life for herself here. Working on the frontlines of the NHS as an A&E doctor, I work alongside colleagues from across Europe and the rest of the world, and they are a credit to our country. It makes me proud to be British. But years of Tory government has created a literal Hostile Environment for migrants in this country. The drawbridge is being pulled up, and the rights of a whole generation of people to travel freely and live, love and work across Europe is being taken away. That is a tragedy, but it also means those of us who are proud of our outward-looking, progressive, internationalist values must fight even harder to protect and extend them. The fight starts now, and as your Deputy Leader (or even if I’m not!), I promise I will always be there fighting alongside you for those values with everything I’ve got.

Awaiting responses from Dawn Butler and Richard Burgon.