Brexit and migrants’ rights kept off Labour conference agenda

Constituency delegates to Labour Party conference have voted to prioritise the NHS, social care, housing and the railways as their four issue areas for discussion at Labour’s conference. These will join the union-decided priorities of workers’ rights, Grenfell, “growth and investment” and public sector pay.

These are all important areas. We have promoted motions in several of them. But the upshot is that the issues around Brexit and thus also migrants’ rights will not be discussed.

That means not only the right-wing motions supporting continued British membership of the European single market (a number of which, to be fair, do also raise the issue of migrants’ rights) but also the left-wing motions to defend and extend free movement, as well as migrants’ rights in other respects, coordinated by the Labour Campaign for Free Movement.

Apparently conference will hear and debate a (presumably, very bland) statement on these issues from the NEC tomorrow morning. That statement will almost certainly not defend free movement, let alone say anything more radical about it, since neither the NEC nor trade unions are united on this.

The areas prioritised by CLPs exactly mirror the recommendations put out by the Campaign for Labour Party Democracy and Momentum. Of course, it is heartening that the organised left can now determine what conference does in this way. But on another, more fundamental level, the biggest contingents of the Labour left have made a grievous mistake.

It is a mistake that flows from the dominant politics among their leaders – trying to avoid a serious discussion or a clear position about issues connected to Brexit (or in some cases actively welcoming it). It’s understandable why delegates would go for that given that such a strategy has worked relatively well for Labour so far. But it is neither a long term strategy nor politically right. It means Labour Party conference abdicating from its right and responsibility to discuss how to deal with these huge issues. It means migrants’ rights, in any form, will not be on the official agenda in Brighton.

The leadership or elements of it may breathe a sigh of relief. It will be licensed, for now, to continue on its current course. That course means retreating in the face of a huge right-wing, nationalist offensive against migrants’ rights, in the first instance EU migrants but also all migrants more generally.

Labour Party and labour movement supporters of freedom of movement and migrants’ rights need to organise urgently to continue the fight.

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