Ed Miliband, leader of the U.K.’s main opposition Labour Party, said the Labour governments of Tony Blair and Gordon Brown made mistakes on immigration by focusing too much on economic growth.
It was wrong to allow unchecked immigration from new European Union states in 2004, he said, adding that the governments, in which he was a senior advisor and a cabinet minister, underestimated the effect of immigration on housing, schools and community cohesion.
“We were too dazzled by globalization and too sanguine about its price,” Miliband said in a speech in London today. “By focusing too much on globalization and migration’s impact on growth, we lost sight of who was benefiting from that growth and the people who were being squeezed. To those who lost out, Labour was too quick to say ‘like it or lump it’.”
A future Labour government would limit the number of people from new EU nations allowed to work in the U.K. for seven years, increase fines for employers paying less than the minimum wage and ban recruitment agencies from taking on only foreign workers.
“I’m not going to promise ‘British jobs for British workers,’ but we need an economy which offers working people a fair crack of the whip,’’ Miliband said in reference to comments by Brown in a 2007 speech. “The idea that in industries like construction or agriculture you can get recruitment agencies who boast all their workers are Polish or denigrate the talents of those who are living locally isn’t right.”
The shift by Labour means the U.K.’s two largest parties favor tougher immigration policy. The Conservative Home Secretary, Theresa May, told businesses on June 20 to stop complaining about the difficulties bringing staff into the country.
Lawyers have fielded a flood of questions from international firms following a shakeup of visa rules by the coalition government. Changes include a five-year cap on how long employees who moved to the U.K. under the Intra Company Transfer system can stay and the removal of their right to settle permanently.
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