Labour changes tack on UK immigration

07 Mar 2013 | Posted by Carl Thomas

Labour looks set to take a different approach to UK immigration with party members acknowledging that the party's previous open door approach didn't work.

In a speech at the IPPR today (March 7th), shadow home secretary Yvette Cooper said that “a serious debate” is needed in order to get immigration right and urged people to stop seeing immigration as “one of those difficult subjects politicians don't talk about, and the public worry about”.

She praised previous UK visa holders: “New ideas, new talents and hard work from abroad have helped build our biggest companies, sustain our NHS, keep our public transport moving, win us Nobel prizes and expand our science base.” But warned that mass migration also creates “stresses and strains”, as well as “economic and political tensions” when resources are tight.

After noting the wide range of issues that need to be addressed, Ms Cooper admitted that “Labour got some things wrong on immigration in government”. She added: “We should have been quicker to bring in the Australian style points based system. We should have kept transitional controls for Eastern Europe. And we should have looked more at the impact, and been ready to talk about problems.”

The comments come as Labour leader Ed Miliband pledges to introduce new curbs on low-skills immigrants coming to Britain. In a party political broadcast he is to reiterate the shadow home secretary's comments about the need to discuss immigration and the delicate balance required to benefit the British economy while supporting overseas workers and other immigrants.

The Conservative-led Coalition's approach to immigration has been met with resistance from business groups who have stated that the UK work permit and visa restrictions are too strict and pose a serious risk to economic growth. However, the level of immigration seen under Tony Blair's Labour government was faulted for being too high and for lacking enough emphasis on encouraging skilled employees to move to the country.

Labour's acknowledgment of the need for more open debate on the issues is at least a sign that things could be moving towards a more sensible balance if the parties can agree to work together on future immigration policies.