Labour MPs call on Jeremy Corbyn to give clearer message on immigration


Jeremy Corbyn has faced calls from his own MPs to set out a clearer message on immigration after last week's widely-mocked relaunch of his leadership.

At Monday's meeting of the parliamentary Labour party (PLP), Mr Corbyn was forced to restate his position on immigration, telling MPs again he is "not wedded" to free movement of EU nationals.

The Labour leader had attempted to clarify his position on the issue last week when he insisted he was "not wedded to free movement".

He caused confusion after later saying it may be accepted in return for single market access, and then saying in a speech he did not rule it out.

An MP who attended the PLP revealed the leadership team faced criticism over messaging but that colleagues who "don't want the wheels to come off" are prepared to "knuckle on" for the party.

Asked about the criticism from his own MPs, a spokesman for Mr Corbyn said: "He spelt out again the kind of things that he said last week and has said subsequently over the weekend, that we're not wedded to free movement as an issue of principle but that the priority for Labour in relation to Brexit negotiations is jobs and living standards.

"And that obviously there's an issue around tariff-free access to the European market, but that the kind of intervention and regulation of the labour market that we have talked about repeatedly, and Jeremy was talking about during the referendum campaign, and he spelt out in more detail last week (would bring down numbers)."

The spokesman said Mr Corbyn wanted to stop the undercutting of agency workers and a "race to the bottom" on regulations which allows employers to bring in "large numbers of workers to drive down pay and conditions in Britain".

The Labour MP, who spoke on condition of anonymity, said Mr Corbyn did not receive a hostile reception at the PLP but added: "Those criticisms about communications tonight were the most obvious criticisms, it wasn't personally directed but it is an issue."

Meanwhile, the spokesman revealed Mr Corbyn is "confident" of victory in two crucial by-elections triggered by the resignations of outspoken critics of his leadership.

The party is expected to face a strong challenge from Ukip in Stoke-on-Trent Central, where Tristram Hunt is standing down to become the director of the Victoria and Albert Museum.

The Conservatives are being tipped to unseat Labour in Copeland, where Jamie Reed has quit to take up a position at the Sellafield nuclear power plant.

Mr Corbyn travelled unannounced to Copeland on Sunday where he held a "listening exercise" with local party members.

The spokesman denied the trip was not publicised because the Labour leader is "toxic" on the doorstep.

"That's absolute nonsense," the spokesman said.

"He's going back to Copeland this coming weekend and I think we'll see very clearly that's not the case."

The spokesman went on: "He's said that he's confident he can hold the seats but obviously it's going to be a serious contest and we'll be campaigning very hard in both constituencies to defend the seats for Labour."

Labour will fight the elections on a platform criticising Government cuts to the NHS and social care, and highlighting how voters have been let down in terms of job, opportunities and living standards, the spokesman said.