Starmer to shelve Labour policies to focus on ‘battered’ economy if party takes power

22 November 2022, 00:36 | Updated: 22 November 2022, 11:59

Keir Starmer is set to tell business chiefs to end cheap labour as Rishi Sunak rebuffs CBI calls to ease stance on migration
Keir Starmer is set to tell business chiefs to end cheap labour as Rishi Sunak rebuffs CBI calls to ease stance on migration. Picture: LBC / Alamy

By Danielle DeWolfe

Sir Keir Starmer acknowledged that some cherished Labour policies would have to be shelved if he entered Downing Street in order to focus on dealing with the battered economy he would inherit.

The Labour leader, who sought to woo business leaders with a promise of a "new partnership", offered a "pragmatic" approach to economic migration and a commitment to boosting productivity across the country.

But he said the economic chaos under the Tories meant that if he won the next election some "good Labour things" he would like to do would have to be shelved in order to focus on restoring the nation's economic credibility.

It comes as Labour's plans come under increasing scrutiny after latest poll figures suggest they've opened up a 20-percentage-point lead over the Conservatives ahead of the next election.

It follows Mr Sunak's statement yesterday at the Confederation of Business Industry (CBI), following reports at the weekend that he was seeking a 'swiss-style' deal with the EU.

Sir Keir told the Confederation of British Industry conference that firms had to wean themselves off reliance on low paid, cheap labour from overseas.

But he acknowledged the need to allow them to recruit the staff they needed now, while ensuring that in the longer term Britons had the skills needed to fill vacancies in the economy.

"Of course we will be pragmatic. Of course we understand that we need to act now so that we help business and drive growth.

"But we have to address and run towards the challenge that is skills, run towards the challenge that is ensuring we have everybody back in the workforce, because there are hundreds of thousands of people who aren't working now who were working just a few years ago.

"This is, for me, an economic argument, not a push for political tactics."

He said trade unions "must be a crucial part of our partnership".

"Our common goal must be to help the British economy off its immigration dependency."

Rishi Sunak addressing the CBI
Rishi Sunak addressing the CBI. Picture: Alamy

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But he would not commit to "arbitrary" numbers on bringing down immigration.

Sir Keir stressed the way Labour had changed since he took over from Jeremy Corbyn in 2020, saying he had turned the party "inside out".

"This is a different Labour Party and there is no going back, we are ready for partnership."

He said Labour would "give Britain the clear economic leadership it needs" and told business chiefs the party would "work with you to drive our country forward".

"Not just a pro-business party, but a party that is proud of being pro-business, that respects the contribution profit makes to our jobs, growth and our tax base," he said.

"(A party) that gets that working people want success as well as support, understands that backing private enterprise is the only way that Britain pays its way in the world.

"This is a matter of conviction for me and I have united my party behind it."

He said he would put economic stability ahead of implementing some of Labour's plans for government - although he would not set out which policies would be postponed.

"We will inherit an economy that's been damaged by the last 12 weeks and the last 12 years, and we need to fundamentally accept that as an incoming government," he said.

"Restoring stability is key. There's a cost to instability and we have been paying that cost over the last few weeks and over the last few years."

That would mean restoring faith in the economic institutions and following clear fiscal rules.

"That stability has to be our first priority. If that means there are things - good Labour things - which we can't do as quickly as we would like, then that is a consequence of that security."

Sir Keir Starmer will set out his vision of a Labour government to the CBI on Tuesday
Sir Keir Starmer will set out his vision of a Labour government to the CBI on Tuesday. Picture: Contributor: Colin Fisher / Alamy Stock Photo

He said the Tory idea of "trickle down" economics had been "tested to destruction".

But he also rejected a system that relied on growth in London and the south east, with the state redistributing that wealth around the country - an apparent criticism of the New Labour era.

"My Labour government will care - must care - as much about raising productivity everywhere as we've done in the past about redistribution.

"We're going to throw everything at growing our collective contribution, our productive capacity in every community."

On Brexit, Sir Keir said the current trade deal with the European Union is "not working well" but vowed not to take the UK back into the single market.

The Labour leader told the CBI conference: "We are not going back to the EU. That means not going back into the single market or customs union.

"But we have to make Brexit work, the deal the Government has got us is not working well. It's holding business back, it's holding growth back."

A Conservative Party spokesman said: "Keir Starmer talks tough on immigration, but all his 'policy' amounts to is giving big business all the cheap, low-skilled foreign labour it asks for. Labour wouldn't lift a finger to support our domestic workforce to fill vacancies.

"He is a dyed-in-the-wool open borders advocate who wants to give illegal migrants priority access to work permits and whose shadow home secretary won't even say if she wants to see numbers fall."

Rishi Sunak at the CBI
Rishi Sunak at the CBI. Picture: Alamy

Brexit stopped many foreign workers being able to easily work in the UK and companies are struggling to recruit - especially in industries such as hospitality which has relied heavily on European staff in recent years.

In his speech, Mr Sunak said leaving the bloc means "we can open up our country to the world's fastest-growing markets".

He also said the UK could now introduce "regulatory regimes that are fit for the future that ensure that this country can be leaders in those industries that are going to create the jobs and the growth of the future".

A recent poll from YouGov showed the public now think Britain was wrong to leave the EU by 56% to 32%, with one in five who voted for Brexit believing their decision was wrong.

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