Welsh First Minister says Corbyn must not fall into ‘trap’ of listening to Labour members on immigration

Wales' First Minister Carwyn Jones arrives for a meeting with European Union's Chief Brexit Negotiator Michel Barnier at the EU Commission headquarters in Brussels, Belgium, July 13, 2017.

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Wales’ First Minister Carwyn Jones arrives for a meeting with European Union’s Chief Brexit Negotiator Michel Barnier at the EU Commission headquarters in Brussels, Belgium, July 13, 2017.
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REUTERS/Francois Lenoir

  • Exclusive: Welsh First Minister Carwyn Jones tells Business Insider that Jeremy Corbyn is right to promise to end the free movement of people.
  • Jones, Labour’s leader in Wales, told Business Insider that Corbyn must avoid “the trap” of listening to Labour party members on the issue of immigration after Brexit.
  • Jones also said Theresa May must resign as UK prime minister if MPs reject her Brexit deal.
  • The Welsh leader gave a speech in London in which he urged May to erase her Brexit red lines.

LONDON – The First Minister of Wales, Carwyn Jones, has urged Jeremy Corbyn to avoid the “trap” of listening to Labour members who want the party to support the free movement of people continuing after Brexit.

Speaking to Business Insider on Thursday, Labour’s leader in Wales acknowledged that while most party members support current relaxed immigration rules, Corbyn must do “what’s right for the country” instead.

Asked whether Labour in its “heart of hearts” would like to keep free movement, he replied: “The scenario you pose is probably right, in that most of our members support the free movement of people.

“But we must not fall into the trap of doing what’s right for our party rather than what’s right for the country.

We must not fall into the trap of doing what’s right for our party rather than what’s right for the country.

“In my mind, we have to recognise that people are unhappy with the freedom of movement, and we need to come up with an alternative.”

The free movement of people is one of the four “freedoms” which countries must accept in order to enjoy full access to the EU single market. It means EU citizens can travel freely across the bloc, from one member state to another.

Labour is divided on the issue due to the prominent role immigration played as an issue in the Brexit referendum.

The party’s current policy is to negotiate a bespoke single market arrangement with the EU with restrictions on the free movement of people. However, EU figures have privately dismissed this as unworkable, BI reported this week.

Speaking to BI at an event organised by the UK in a Changing Europe think tank, Jones also refused to criticise the leadership for not supporting the amendment which sought to keep Britain in the single market via the European Economic Area – i.e the Norway model – despite supporting it himself.

“The alternative amendment tabled by Labour front bench was the right amendment as it was broad and it kept options open. Some say it didn’t go far enough, but it was important to do that. We have a government which is narrowing options,” the First Minister said.

“Our party is looking at all possible options, and I think that’s the way to do it.”

Jones leaves door open for referendum on May’s Brexit deal

Britain's Prime Minister Theresa May meets First Minister of Wales, Carwyn Jones at the National Assembly for Wales in Cardiff July 18, 2016.

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Britain’s Prime Minister Theresa May meets First Minister of Wales, Carwyn Jones at the National Assembly for Wales in Cardiff July 18, 2016.
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REUTERS/Yui Mok/Pool

Speaking in central London, Jones criticised the “chaos” within the Westminster government and urged Theresa May to “erase her wobbly red lines” in order to break the current impasse in Brexit negotiations.

He told BI that the UK prime minister would have no choice but to resign if MPs vote down the Brexit deal she hopes to bring back from Brussels last this year, a scenario which he claimed would trigger both a general election and another referendum on Britain’s EU membership.

“On an issue of this importance, if the government can’t command the support of the House of Commons, it’s a confidence issue. It has to be. What more important an issue is there?” he said.

“The only way it could be resolved is via a general election in which you ask the people what they think.

“I find it extraordinary that Johnson is still in the Cabinet. If he was in mine, he would have been gone long ago,”

“If that produces another inconclusive result [a hung parliament], then we’ll have to start thinking about a referendum on the terms of the deal. Or else, how else do you decide what direction we go in?”

He also took aim at UK Foreign Secretary, Boris Johnson, for offering nothing but “hot air” to the Brexit debate. Johnson was recorded last week suggesting US President Donald Trump would be more effective in Brexit talks than Prime Minister May and warned that a “meltdown” was coming in negotiations.

“I find it extraordinary that Johnson is still in the Cabinet. If he was in mine, he would have been gone long ago,” he said.

“To say a leader of the US should take over negotiations with the EU displays a complete lack of confidence in the prime minister.”

He added: “People who say we shouldn’t be afraid of no-deal Brexit, like Johnson, are the people who will feel the least amount of pain because they are the most well-off.

“The people will feel it the most are people who are working; people in factories; people in our industries.”