Ed Miliband delivers a speech on the deficit to business leaders on December 11, 2014 in London. Photograph: Getty Images.
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Miliband turns focus to immigration as Labour continues drive to address weaknesses

Labour leader promises a new law banning employers from undercutting workers' wages and conditions by exploiting migrants. 

After his speech last week on the deficit, Ed Miliband will deliver one on immigration today, another issue which Labour acknowledges it needs to improve its standing on. The strategic aim is to address the party's weaknesses now, clearing space to return to its strengths (the NHS and living standards) in the new year. "We're on the pitch on the deficit and on immigration," one aide told me. 

After last week's promise to cut borrowing every year, Miliband will unveil the second of Labour's election pledges. The speech will be made in Great Yarmouth, one of the party's 106 target seats and a three-way fight between themselves, the Tories and Ukip. In the Q&A that follows, Miliband will take questions from an audience of undecided voters. 

The headline announcement is a pledge to pass a new law making it a criminal offence for employers to undercut workers' wages and conditions by exploiting migrants. One strategist described it to me as a "uniquely Labour" approach to the issue with neither the Tories nor Ukip prepared to regulate the labour market in this manner. Miliband will say tomorrow: 

We are serving notice on employers who bring workers here under duress or on false terms and pay them significantly lower wages, with worse terms and conditions.

This new criminal offence will provide protection to everyone. It will help ensure that, when immigrants work here, they do not face exploitation themselves and rogue employers are stopped from undercutting the terms and conditions of everyone else.

The choice at the next election is whether we change our economy to make it work for everyday people or carry on with an approach which means it works only for a privileged few at the top. We can’t do that unless we deal with the undercutting of wages which is made possible by the exploitation of migrant workers.

Neither the Tories nor Ukip will do any of this.

They turn a blind eye to exploitation and undercutting because it is part of the low skill, low wage, fast-buck economy they think Britain needs to succeed.

 We won’t make false promises on immigration, like David Cameron.

And we won’t offer false solutions like Ukip—leaving the European union would be a disaster for jobs, business and families.

Instead, we will offer clear, credible and concrete solutions which help build a country that works for working people again.

To prove that a criminal offence has been committed, evidence would have to be provided that some abuse of power had occurred and that migrants were employed on significantly different terms to local workers. The proposed new law is modelled on one in Germany, where section 233 of the Criminal Code states that employers may not impose "working conditions that are in clear discrepancy to those of other workers performing the same or a similar activity". 

The pledge forms part of a broader plan to bring fairness to the labour market by increasing fines for companies that pay below the minimum wage, closing loopholes in agency worker laws that allow firms to undercut directly-employed staff and banning recruitment agencies from hiring only from abroad. It represents the third leg of what one strategist described as the party's "I-C-E" approach to immigration: Integration (requiring foreign workers to learn English), Contribution (limiting migrants' access to benefits until they have paid in) and Ending Exploitation. 

With these policies, Miliband, who will remind his audience that he is the son of refugees, believes he has found a way to address the issue that is consistent with his values and principles. He is also determined not to commit David Cameron's error of making unachievable promises such as reducing net migration to "tens of thousands" a year. Indeed, Cameron's failure to meet his pledge (having previously invited voters to "kick" the Tories out if he fell short) is one reason why Labour is more confident of fighting on this territory.  

But while most Labour MPs are content with the party's stance on immigration, some believe Miliband remains overly preoccupied with labour market regulation - a traditional cause of the left - to the detriment of more populist issues such as border control. They would like a clearer message around reducing the number of low-skilled migrants and protecting Britain from foreign criminals (policy issues Yvette Cooper raised yesterday). But Miliband's speech is an indication that, for both policy and political reasons, he intends to maintain his focus on the economic dimension of immigration. 

George Eaton is political editor of the New Statesman.

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Hopes of an anti-Brexit party are illusory, but Remainers have a new plan to stay in the EU

Stopping Brexit may prove an impossible task. Remainers are looking to the "Article 49 strategy": reapplying for EU membership. 

The Remain campaign lost in the country, but it won by a landslide in parliament. On 23 June 2016, more than two-thirds of MPs voted for EU membership. Ever since the referendum, the possibility that parliament could thwart withdrawal, or at least soften it, has loomed.

Theresa May called an early general election in the hope of securing a majority large enough to neutralise revanchist Remainers. When she was denied a mandate, many proclaimed that “hard Brexit” had been defeated. Yet two months after the Conservatives’ electoral humbling, it appears, as May once remarked, that “nothing has changed”. The government remains committed not merely to leaving the EU but to leaving the single market and the customs union. Even a promise to mimic the arrangements of the customs union during a transition period is consistent with May’s pre-election Lancaster House speech.

EU supporters once drew consolation from the disunity of their opponents. While Leavers have united around several defining aims, however, the Remainers are split. Those who campaigned reluctantly for EU membership, such as May and Jeremy Corbyn, have become de facto Brexiteers. Others are demanding a “soft Brexit” – defined as continued single market membership – or at least a soft transition.

Still more propose a second referendum, perhaps championed by a new centrist party (“the Democrats” is the name suggested by James Chapman, an energetic former aide to George Osborne and the Brexit Secretary, David Davis). Others predict that an economic cataclysm will force the government to rethink.

Faced with this increasingly bewildering menu of options, the average voter still chooses Brexit as their main course. Though Leave’s referendum victory was narrow (52-48), its support base has since widened. Polling has consistently shown that around two-thirds of voters believe that the UK has a duty to leave the EU, regardless of their original preference.

A majority of Remain supporters, as a recent London School of Economics study confirmed, favour greater controls over EU immigration. The opposition of a significant number of Labour and Tory MPs to “soft Brexit” largely rests on this.

Remainers usually retort – as the Chancellor, Philip Hammond, put it – “No one voted to become poorer.” Polls show that, as well as immigration control, voters want to retain the economic benefits of EU membership. The problem is not merely that some politicians wish to have their cake and eat it, but that most of the public does, too.

For Remainers, the imperative now is to avoid an economic catastrophe. This begins by preventing a “cliff-edge” Brexit, under which the UK crashes out on 29 March 2019 without a deal. Though the Leave vote did not trigger a swift recession, a reversion to World Trade Organisation trading terms almost certainly would. Although David Davis publicly maintains that a new EU trade deal could swiftly be agreed, he is said to have privately forecast a time span of five years (the 2016 EU-Canada agreement took seven). A transition period of three years – concluded in time for the 2022 general election – would leave the UK with two further years in the wilderness without a deal.

A coalition of Labour MPs who dislike free movement and those who dislike free markets has prevented the party endorsing “soft Brexit”. Yet the Remainers in the party, backed by 80 per cent of grass-roots members, are encouraged by a recent shift in the leadership’s position. Although Corbyn, a Bennite Eurosceptic, vowed that the UK would leave the single market, the shadow Brexit secretary, Keir Starmer, and the shadow chancellor, John McDonnell, have refused to rule out continued membership.

A group of Remainers from all parties met in the Labour MP Chuka Umunna’s office before recess, and they are hopeful that parliament will force the government to commit to a meaningful transition period, including single market membership. But they have no intention of dissolving tribal loyalties and uniting under one banner. A year after George Osborne first pitched the idea of a new party to Labour MPs, it has gained little traction. “All it would do is weaken Labour,” the former cabinet minister Andrew Adonis, a past Social Democratic Party member, told me. “The only way we can defeat hard Brexit is to have a strong Labour Party.”

In this febrile era, few Remainers dismiss the possibility of a second referendum. Yet most are wary of running ahead of public opinion. “It would simply be too risky,” a senior Labour MP told me, citing one definition of insanity: doing the same thing and expecting a different result.

Thoughtful Remainers, however, are discussing an alternative strategy. Rather than staging a premature referendum in 2018-19, they advocate waiting until the UK has concluded a trade deal with the EU. At this point, voters would be offered a choice between the new agreement and re-entry under Article 49 of the Lisbon Treaty. By the mid-2020s, Remainers calculate, the risks of Brexit will be clearer and the original referendum will be history. The proviso is that the EU would have to allow the UK re-entry on its existing membership terms, rather than the standard ones (ending its opt-outs from the euro and the border-free Schengen Area). Some MPs suggest agreeing a ten-year “grace period” in which Britain can achieve this deal – a formidable challenge, but not an impossible one.

First, though, the Remainers must secure a soft transition. If the UK rips itself from the EU’s institutions in 2019, there will be no life raft back to safe territory. The initial aim is one of damage limitation. But like the Leavers before them, the wise Remainers are playing a long game.

George Eaton is political editor of the New Statesman.

This article first appeared in the 17 August 2017 issue of the New Statesman, Trump goes nuclear