Jeremy Corbyn is expected to say Labour “is not wedded to freedom of movement” on principle in a Brexit speech on Tuesday.
But the Labour leader will also argue that the negotiators must focus on economic necessity and not make “false promises” on immigration.
He is expected to say: “Labour is not wedded to freedom of movement for EU citizens as a point of principle.
“But nor can we afford to lose full access to the European markets on which so many British businesses and jobs depend. Changes to the way migration rules operate from the EU will be part of the negotiations.
“Labour supports fair rules and reasonably managed migration as part of the post-Brexit relationship with the EU.”
With a pro-Remain membership and marginal seats in Leave areas, Labour MPs are divided on whether the party should prioritise the single market or immigration during Brexit negotiations.
Corbyn’s speech hints at an attempt to find a compromise. He has pledged to close down “cheap labour loopholes” and exclusive advertising of jobs abroad, as well as a more protectionist industrial policy that includes state aid currently prohibited under EU rules.
On the other hand, he is expected to say Labour “will push to maintain full access to the European single market to protect living standards and jobs” – a sop to pro-Remain members hoping for a soft Brexit.
Corbyn may wonder if he’s said enough to placate both sides. No doubt he’s looking forward to having a chance to try it out for real – in the by-election for the Labour-held seat of Copeland, which voted Leave.