UK Labor leader risks further splits over immigration


LIVERPOOL: British Labor leader Jeremy Corbyn will wrap up his party’s annual conference Wednesday with a call to end “warfare” in the ranks, but risks fresh splits by rejecting calls for immigration curbs after the Brexit vote.

The opposition party has been plagued by in-fighting following a botched attempt by MPs to unseat the 67-year-old leftist in June, which culminated in his re-election by party members and supporters on Saturday.

In his closing speech to the party conference in Liverpool, northwest England, Corbyn will call for an end to the rows, which have led to fears that Labor could permanently split and be consigned to years in the political wilderness.

But aides said he would not commit to reducing the numbers of migrants coming to Britain, despite evidence that concerns over their impact on public services and wages was a key driver of the June vote to leave the EU.

Instead, he will commit to reviving a multi-million-pound state fund to help local communities deal with migration.

“I understand the problems that can come in some areas, hence my determination on the migrant income fund,” Corbyn told BBC radio ahead of his speech.

“I also understand that there are many industries and jobs that have done well from migrant labor and even depend on it.”

Immigration is a key issue as Britain prepares its Brexit negotiations. Businesses want continued access to the European market, but this is dependent on maintaining freedom of movement with the rest of the bloc.

MP Andy Burnham, Corbyn’s home affairs spokesman, warned that Labour has to acknowledge people’s concerns.

“Labor must face up fully to this fact: millions of our lifelong supporters voted to leave the EU and voted for change on immigration,” he was expected to tell delegates, according to advanced extracts of his speech.

Prominent moderate MP Rachel Reeves warned that community tensions were rising and some areas were “like a tinderbox”.

“We have got to get this right because there are bubbling tensions in this country that I just think could explode,” she told a meeting on the conference’s sidelines.

Corbyn’s left-wing views have swelled Labor party ranks but have antagonized his mostly moderate MPs who say his high tax, high-spending policies can never win a general election.

The latest opinion poll put Prime Minister Theresa May’s Conservatives on 41 percent, and Labor on 26 percent.

After he was re-elected Saturday with 62 percent of the vote, Corbyn said he wanted to “wipe the slate clean” and called for rebel MPs to come back to unite the party.

Corbyn in his speech on Wednesday is expected to call on party factions to “end the trench warfare and work together to take on the Tories”.

But a fresh row broke out behind the scenes at the conference over a rule change to membership of Labor’s ruling National Executive Committee that Corbyn’s supporters fear will weaken their influence.

Divisions also resurfaced over Britain’s Trident nuclear deterrent, which lifelong pacificist Corbyn wants to scrap but which Labor officially supports.

Defense spokesman Clive Lewis reportedly punched a wall in frustration at having his conference speech edited by one of Corbyn’s aides to remove a section committing to maintain the current pro-Trident position.

Deputy Labor leader Tom Watson meanwhile used his speech to delegates on Tuesday to warn against Corbyn supporters “trashing our own record”.

Centrist former prime ministers Tony Blair and Gordon Brown were in government for 13 years, but are regarded as pariahs by many activists, largely because of the Iraq war.

“Trashing our own record is not the way to enhance our brand. We won’t win elections like that and we need to win elections,” Watson said. AFP







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