Support 110 years of independent journalism.

  1. Politics
  2. UK Politics
20 November 2019updated 02 Sep 2021 4:37pm

Jeremy Corbyn calls David Cameron’s migrant benefits plan “irrelevant“ rather than wrong

The Labour leader avoids outright condemnation of the Tories' proposal to limit payments to EU migrants. 

By George Eaton

The only part of David Cameron’s EU renegotiation likely to attract public interest is his plan to limit in-work benefits for migrants. No.10 adopted the policy after focus groups found that it had more “cut-through” than a limit on numbers.

Reports at the weekend suggested that Jeremy Corbyn, who is in Brussels for a meeting of the Party of European Socialists, would attack the plan as “discriminatory”. Under Cameron’s “emergency brake”, EU migrants would be barred from claiming full in-work benefits for four years, with payments graduated over that period. Corbyn’s planned “attack” troubled Labour MPs, who feared their leader setting himself against a popular policy. Shadow cabinet ministers warned of a clash between Corbyn and shadow home secretary Andy Burnham, who takes a notably more sceptical stance on immigration. “I don’t want to lose Andy over this,” one told me. 

But Corbyn’s “attack” has proved to be far milder than billed. In remarks issued tonight, he described the emergency brake as “largely irrelevant to the problems it is supposed to address” and noted that there was “no evidence that it will act as a brake on inward migration”. That is some distance from describing it as “discriminatory”. Indeed, Conservative MPs, who fear that the new national living wage will act as a draw  for migrants, wouldn’t disagee with a word. Corbyn also warned that the policy “won’t put a penny in the pockets of workers in Britain” or “stop the undercutting of UK wages by the exploitation of migrant workers”. Rather than protesting over discrimination against would-be migrants, the Labour leader’s objection is to discrimination against existing workers – a quite different argument. 

Asked whether Corbyn’s description of the emergency brake as “irrelevant” meant he did not oppose it, a spokesman would not elaborate on his statement. Another Labour source told me: “We support the contributory principle for migrants”. 

Corbyn almost certainly does regard the emergency brake as discriminatory and wrong. But that he has chosen not to say so is another example of the pragmatism he has intermittently displayed since becoming leader. 

Select and enter your email address Your weekly guide to the best writing on ideas, politics, books and culture every Saturday - from the New Statesman. Sign up directly at The New Statesman's quick and essential guide to the news and politics of the day. Sign up directly at Stay up to date with NS events, subscription offers & updates. Weekly analysis of the shift to a new economy from the New Statesman's Spotlight on Policy team.
  • Administration / Office
  • Arts and Culture
  • Board Member
  • Business / Corporate Services
  • Client / Customer Services
  • Communications
  • Construction, Works, Engineering
  • Education, Curriculum and Teaching
  • Environment, Conservation and NRM
  • Facility / Grounds Management and Maintenance
  • Finance Management
  • Health - Medical and Nursing Management
  • HR, Training and Organisational Development
  • Information and Communications Technology
  • Information Services, Statistics, Records, Archives
  • Infrastructure Management - Transport, Utilities
  • Legal Officers and Practitioners
  • Librarians and Library Management
  • Management
  • Marketing
  • OH&S, Risk Management
  • Operations Management
  • Planning, Policy, Strategy
  • Printing, Design, Publishing, Web
  • Projects, Programs and Advisors
  • Property, Assets and Fleet Management
  • Public Relations and Media
  • Purchasing and Procurement
  • Quality Management
  • Science and Technical Research and Development
  • Security and Law Enforcement
  • Service Delivery
  • Sport and Recreation
  • Travel, Accommodation, Tourism
  • Wellbeing, Community / Social Services
Visit our privacy Policy for more information about our services, how New Statesman Media Group may use, process and share your personal data, including information on your rights in respect of your personal data and how you can unsubscribe from future marketing communications.

His full statement appears below. 

“The negotiations David Cameron is conducting on Britain’s relationship with the European Union are a theatrical sideshow, designed to appease his opponents within the Conservative party. They are not about delivering reforms that would make the EU work better for working people. 

Content from our partners
Planetary perspectives: how data can transform disaster response and preparation
How measurement can help turn businesses’ sustainability goals into action
How UK ports are unlocking green growth

“The Labour Party will campaign to keep Britain in Europe in the forthcoming referendum, regardless of the outcome of the talks being held in Brussels today. That is because it brings by Advertise”> investment, jobs and protection for British workers and consumers. 

“David Cameron’s misnamed ’emergency brake’ on migrants’ in-work benefits is largely irrelevant to the problems it is supposed to address. There is no evidence that it will act as a brake on inward migration.  And it won’t put a penny in the pockets of workers in Britain or stop the undercutting of UK wages by the exploitation of migrant workers. 

“David Cameron’s negotiations are a missed opportunity to make the case for the real reforms the EU needs: democratisation, stronger workers’ rights, an end to austerity, and a halt to the enforced privatisation of public services.”