Keir Starmer and migrants’ rights

By councillor Josh Lovell, Stevenage CLP and Labour Campaign for Free Movement activist

Keir Starmer’s popularity with Labour Party members surely stems in large part from his being perceived as an anti-Brexit and internationalist voice on the Labour front bench.

Now, as Starmer pitches to the left for support in the Labour leadership election, we need to interrogate this perception.

It is well known that the Shadow Brexit secretary abstained on the Tories’ Welfare Bill in 2015, and that he was involved in Owen Smith’s campaign to oust Jeremy Corbyn in 2016.

Less well known, somehow, is the bad role Starmer has played in the arguments around the crucial issues of freedom of movement and migrants’ rights since the Brexit referendum.

In early 2017, when Corbyn was about to but had not yet collapsed under pressure and retreated from defence of free movement, Starmer spoke vocally in favour of collapse and retreat.

He argued for an end to free movement, for stronger restrictions on EU workers, and so on. See for instance the extensive direct quotes in The Independent here.

A year and a half later, at the 2018 Labour conference, I had some personal experience of Starmer’s role. My CLP, Stevenage – where it so happens he is launching his campaign! – had submitted strong policy for defence and extension of migrants’ rights and free movement.

We were in the conference’s Brexit compositing meeting, which Starmer led and dominated. He argued against our text on migrants’ rights being included in the Brexit composite motion, on the grounds that it was a separate issue – but also against our right to have a separate motion. We were driven off the road and our text effectively binned.

In other words, Starmer went out of his way to prevent conference delegates discussing and voting for a pro-free movement, pro-migrants’ rights position.

At the 2019 conference, a composite motion very similar to the 2018 Stevenage one passed overwhelmingly. (This time Starmer had no involvement with the discussion.)

So our questions to Keir Starmer should include: where does he stand on free movement and migrants’ rights? And where does he stand on Labour Party democracy, specifically on the decisions of conference being carried out?

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