EU Referendum

Jeremy Corbyn says EU free movement means no immigration limit

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Media captionJeremy Corbyn: "The very principle of a single market across Europe is the free movement of people"

There can be no upper limit on the number of people coming into the UK while there is free movement of labour in the EU, Jeremy Corbyn has said.

Speaking on the BBC's Andrew Marr show, the Labour leader defended immigration, saying people should turn their anger towards Conservative austerity instead.

If poverty was allowed to increase in parts of Europe, people were bound to look for somewhere else to go, he said.

Pro-Leave Michael Gove said people wanted to feel numbers were controlled.

Asked if there could be an upper limit for immigration, Mr Corbyn said: "I don't think you can have one while you have the free movement of labour.

"I think the free movement of labour means you have to balance the economy so you have to improve living standards and conditions and so that means the European Union's appalling treatment of Greece, particularly the European Central Bank as well as the European Union, that is a problem.

"If you actually deliberately lower living standards and increase poverty in certain countries in south-east and eastern Europe then you're bound to have a flow of people looking for somewhere else to go.

"Surely the issue is an anti-austerity, a growth package all across Europe rather than this," he added.

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His comments come after shadow chancellor John McDonnell said earlier this week that Labour would "look again at the free movement of labour".

Deputy leader Tom Watson also made a similar statement, saying the party would have to make the case to revise EU laws which enable citizens of member states to live and work anywhere in the EU.

Mr Watson said that while he supported the UK staying in Europe, the issue of uncontrolled migration was "coming up on the doorstep" and people need to be reassured that a Remain vote did not mean the end to reforms in Europe.

In his interview with Andrew Marr, Mr Corbyn said the far-right had been "able to grasp the agenda", adding that UKIP leader Nigel Farage's poster showing a queue of asylum seekers was "appalling".

He also insisted the UK had to play its part in the Syrian refugee crisis and it was the "failure of our government to provide housing for people and attacking school budgets" that was the big problem for the UK.

'No catastrophist'

Asked if he was ignoring the concerns of Labour supporters worried about immigration who would feel they had no choice but to vote to leave, Mr Corbyn said if they voted to leave, the same problems would still be there.

"If we leave as a country, exactly the same arguments are going to be made about housing, about jobs, about social security. All those issues are going to be the same on Friday as they are on Thursday.

"The only thing is - it's going to be slightly more difficult - or very much more difficult - because the trade arrangements with Europe are now quite deeply embedded.

"A very large number of jobs in Britain do depend on exports to Europe. Now I'm not a catastrophist, but I do say people should think very very carefully about the direction in which we're going."

Image copyright PA
Image caption Michael Gove, who is campaigning for the UK to leave the EU, says he is pro-migration but believes controls are needed

Justice Secretary Mr Gove told Andrew Marr: "I am pro-migration but I believe that the way in which we secure public support for the continued benefits that migration brings and the way in which we support public support for helping refugees in need is if people feel that they can control the numbers overall coming here."

Wages 'down'

UKIP's Nigel Farage said Mr Corbyn's comments on immigration were "irresponsible".

He told Peston on Sunday that he thought levels of about 30,000 to 50,000 people a year entering the country were more sustainable and would like to see the numbers debated in parliament.

And Vote Leave chairman Labour's Gisela Stuart accused the Remain campaign of having no answers on how to control immigration if the UK stayed in the EU.

"They have no plan for how we will fund the NHS so it can cope with the extra pressures that staying in the EU will create.

"They have no plan for where we will build the extra houses and they have no plan to help people who will see further pressure on their pay packets."

The Leave side believes high immigration has put public services under strain and driven down wages for British workers.

It says it is impossible to control immigration as a member of the EU, and has proposed introducing an Australian-style points-based immigration system if the UK votes to leave.