Jeremy Corbyn on immigration: "Pretending the world will go away won't solve economic problems"

The Labour leader described last week's debate on immigration as "depressing". 

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Brits who want to curb immigration are “closing the door” on the modern world and risking economic decline, the Labour leader Jeremy Corbyn has warned.

Speaking at the Centre for Turkey Studies annual London gala, Corbyn said the country seemed to be “descending into a national debate about how few foreigners we can have in Britain” which he found “very depressing”.

Earlier that day, his shadow Brexit secretary, Keir Starmer, had said the concern about immigration was understandable. 

Corbyn said: “The reality is history moves on and people move on with it. There are people from Britain who live all over the world. There are people from all over the world who live in lots of other places. In the modern world, a lot of people travel and make their homes elsewhere.

“Closing the door, pretending the world will go away, is not going to solve any economic problem. In fact, it is much more likely to lead to a process of economic decline.”

Corbyn also attacked the West’s “sense of self-satisfaction that the world’s problems are somewhere else”.

He pledged that Labour would campaign for a more humanitarian response to the refugee crisis: "I'm sorry to say, this is a big country, it is is a wealthy country as is most of western Europe. 

"We can all, must, and should do a lot better."

The Conservative party conference pushed immigration up the agenda last week, after home secretary Amber Rudd floated the idea of forcing companies to list foreign workers. 

Corbyn’s rhetoric on Sunday night was in marked contrast to that of his shadow Brexit secretary Keir Starmer. 

Speaking on the Andrew Marr Show on Sunday morning, Starmer said: “There has been a huge amount of immigration over the last ten years and people are understandably concerned by it.”

Immigration should be reduced by improving the skills of British workers, he added. 

Although the Labour party tried to downplay Brexit at its conference, the issue of immigration emerged as a dividing line between those like Rachel Reeves and Chuka Umunna, who believe it is necessary to demand controls on freedom of movement in negotiations, and those like the shadow home secretary Diane Abbott, who see anti-immigration views as often a cover for racism. 

Julia Rampen is the digital news editor of the New Statesman (previously editor of The Staggers, The New Statesman's online rolling politics blog). She has also been deputy editor at Mirror Money Online and has worked as a financial journalist for several trade magazines.