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Labour wants 'fair system of migration', says John McDonnell

Both Andy Burnham and Diane Abbott speak for Labour on Brexit, John McDonnell has said, as the party's divisions on freedom of movement returned to the fore.

Shadow home secretary Ms Abbott and Mr McDonnell said the party was in favour of a fair system to control immigration, as the party's position came under scrutiny.

But both also stressed the importance of the economy during Brexit negotiations, with Ms Abbott saying freedom of movement was "inextricably linked" with access to the single market.

The two allies of Jeremy Corbyn also said the party would close the gap in the polls to the Tories, with Ms Abbott saying she expected this to happen within 12 months.

This week two senior Labour figures, Manchester mayor candidate Mr Burnham and Welsh First Minister Carwyn Jones, spoke out about the impacts of immigration.

Appearing on BBC Radio 5 Live's Pienaar's Politics, Mr McDonnell was asked whether Labour's stance on immigration was that of Mr Burnham or Ms Abbott, who has taken a far more pro-immigration view.

In reply, Mr McDonnell said: "They're both speaking for Labour, because if you listen to them, what they're saying is if we want to protect our economy, the negotiations around freedom of movement are going to come onto the table.

"What we've got to do is negotiate the best deal. At the moment, we certainly don't know from the Government what they consider to be the best deal.

"The most important thing is we've got to protect jobs and our economy."

He added: "What we've always said on migration, and this has been the traditional Labour party position over the years, is that we want a fair system of migration.

"That's exactly what we'll want to see coming out of the negotiations on Brexit."

On BBC One's The Andrew Marr Show, Ms Abbott said: "We believe in regional autonomy and Andy (Burnham) has always had those views.

"But the truth is you cannot have access to the single market without a measure of freedom of movement.

"My experiences of Labour party members all over the country want immigration rules that are fair and they want reasonable management of migration."

She added that it "would be wrong to put the economy anything other than first" as part of Brexit negotiations.

Ms Abbott and Mr McDonnell also said they wanted to unite the country and appeal to both Remain and Leave voters, with Mr McDonnell saying the Tories and Lib Dems were "pushing themselves into an irreconcilable corner" with their more partisan positons.

Earlier this week Labour hit a seven-year low in the polls when a YouGov survey put them on 25%, 17 points behind Theresa May's Tories.

The party also recorded disappointing results in two recent Westminster by-elections, in Richmond and Sleaford and North Hykeham.

But Ms Abbott said: "I'm confident we can close the gap in the coming 12 months.

"We've had a pretty difficult 12 months, partly Jeremy's enemies in the party, partly commentators, but we have the right policies and we have the right leader."

Mr McDonnell added that Labour had been "absolutely squeezed" in both the by-elections.

He said the party had had "a really dreadful year" but the party was now coming together, adding: "I genuinely think with the way we're positioning ourselves at the moment, we'll come right in the end, particularly on the issue of Brexit."

Mr McDonnell did appear to criticise continuing payments to the EU after Brexit, saying: "I don't believe that the majority of people voted to continue paying into the EU, but that will be part of the negotiations."

He also slapped down the prospect of Labour forming "a progressive alliance" with the Lib Dems and the Greens, saying he did not view the Lib Dems as a progressive force.

He added: "In addition to that, I just think the electorate would be concerned if they thought parties were stitching up elections privately.

"I don't think that's the way forward. The way forward is to support and vote for the Labour party."

Former Tory Cabinet minister Ken Clarke accused Mr Burnham of being a "paler version" of former Ukip leader Nigel Farage and insisted Foreign Secretary Boris Johnson remained pro-immigration.

He told Murnaghan on Sky News: "I would point out, unlike Andy going on about free movement of labour and sounding a bit like a paler version of Nigel Farage, Boris has never been anti-immigrant."

Appearing on BBC One's Sunday Politics, former London mayor Ken Livingstone said he expected Labour to have turned it around in the polls within a year.

"If in a year's time it was still as bad as this, we'd all be worried," he said.

"I don't think it will be, because Jeremy and his team are going to focus on the economy, and that's what wins every election."

However, former shadow chancellor Chris Leslie said Labour did not yet have a credible plan for the economy.

He added: "The plan is not there right now, and you and the rest of the leadership have to be held accountable."

Mr Livingstone also warned that he did not expect Britain would be able to negotiate a "soft Brexit" from the EU.

He said: "So we either have the hard Brexit, and we lose perhaps millions, certainly hundreds of thousands of jobs, or we have to say we got it wrong."

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