General election: Jeremy Corbyn facing immigration policy bust-up as Labour finalise manifesto

16 November 2019, 02:34 | Updated: 16 November 2019, 11:28

Jeremy Corbyn is facing a bust-up over immigration policy as senior MPs, party officials and union leaders meet to agree Labour's election manifesto.

Some of Mr Corbyn's closest allies, including the shadow home secretary Diane Abbott, want Labour to back freedom of movement after the UK leaves the EU.

But the Labour leader's chief trade union cheerleader, Len McCluskey of Unite, is demanding curbs on free movement to protect jobs and maintain levels of pay for UK workers.

The dispute will be thrashed out at a so-called Clause V meeting of the shadow cabinet, national executive and senior union leaders to decide what goes into the manifesto and what stays out.

Speaking on the eve of the meeting, Mr Corbyn told Labour activists in Lancaster: "When our manifesto arrives next week it's going to blow your socks off. You're going to love it."

The row over free movement follows a strongly pro-migration motion calling for it to be extended beyond EU citizens being passed at Labour's conference in September.

This week Mr McCluskey set the scene for a showdown at the manifesto meeting by declaring: "It's wrong in my view to have any greater free movement of labour unless you get stricter labour market regulation."

In an uncompromising interview with The Guardian, he said the motion passed at the Brighton conference was not a "sensible approach" and that he planned to express that view at Saturday's meeting.

Andy Burnham, the mayor of Greater Mancher and former Labour frontbencher, suggested he also thought free movement should end.

"I think the public voted for change in the way the immigration arrangements work with Europe," he told Sophy Ridge on Saturday.

"To deny that I think would be to deny what many people were saying when they went to vote in 2016."

But Ms Abbott later hit back in a defiant tweet, saying Labour would "maintain" the rights of EU nationals in the UK and extend freedom of movement rights "to all those legally entitled to be here, including our own citizens".

Mr Corbyn hinted at a climbdown or compromise on Thursday when he said Labour's manifesto would not include "necessarily every last dot and comma of every resolution passed at conference".

He has been challenged by the Liberal Democrats to make a clear manifesto commitment on immigration - the party says it would be a "betrayal of future generations" if he fails to do so.

The Lib Dems are promising to preserve free movement and have plans to resettle 10,000 unaccompanied refugee children per year if they get into power.

Another radical Labour policy passed in Brighton, incorporating private schools into the state system, is expected to be considerably weakened when it appears in the manifesto.

But policies definitely in the manifesto will be:

  • Brexit: negotiating a new deal with the EU and submitting it to a referendum within six months.
  • Nationalisation: BT Openreach, railways, Royal Mail, water and National Grid.
  • Workers' rights: a return to collective bargaining.
  • Four-day week: a target of achieving this by 2030.
  • Zero-hours contracts: banned.
  • Climate change: the aim of net zero carbon emissions by 2030.
  • Shares: an "inclusive ownership fund" for employees.

Coinciding with the Clause V meeting in London, Labour is stepping up its attack on the Tories on the NHS, claiming analysis reveals that staff are working a million hours of unpaid overtime every week because of under-staffing.

Labour says the most recent NHS staff survey shows nearly 270,000 staff said they worked extra hours for free every week - at an average of 2.3 hours a week - and two thirds said their organisation had not enough staff for them to do their job properly.

Doctors and dentists between them worked 125,000 hours a week (an average of 3.6 hours), allied health professionals such as occupational therapists and physiotherapists worked 210,000 (an average of 2.2 hours), and nurses worked 380,000 (an average of three hours).

Shadow health secretary Jonathan Ashworth used the figures to take a swipe at Boris Johnson, who is out on the campaign trail again in his new battle bus.

The prime minister is reviving a David Cameron slogan, "Vote Blue, Go Green", promising a trebling of tree-planting to at least 30 million and creating a new £500m Blue Planet fund to protect the oceans.

Existing woodland like the Northern Forest and Northumberland Forest would be expanded, say the Tories, and new forests would be created across the country. Towns and cities would also benefit with more trees planted in urban areas to improve air quality, they claim.

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Part of a £640m Nature for Climate fund would also be used to restore degraded peatland across the country, turning it from a source of carbon to a means of soaking up carbon, as well as replenishing native wildlife populations.

"There is nothing more conservative than protecting our environment and these measures sit alongside our world-leading commitment to net zero greenhouse gas emissions by 2050," the PM said.

Cabinet office minister Michael Gove told Sky News that Britain could be more environmentally friendly by spending more money on green causes and supporting farming differently.

He also dismissed a call by Labour peer and former lord chancellor Lord Falconer for the Metropolitan Police to investigate claims the Conservatives offered peerages to senior Brexit Party figures to get them to stand down in the election.

The Brexit Election: For the fastest results service and in-depth analysis watch Sky News live from 9pm on Thursday 12 December, with a KayBurley@Breakfast election special on Friday 13 December