The Conservatives’ first party conference under Theresa May’s premiership has included a series of controversial policy announcements that have sparked public debate and some fierce rebuttals from Labour MPs.
As of Wednesday morning – the final day of the four-day conference – though, Labour leader Jeremy Corbyn was conspicuous by his absence, having released no statements through the week, nor made any TV appearances.
Corbyn’s Twitter account through the week has focused on Labour’s North West film festival, tweeting about it three times in three days, and marking the 80th anniversary of the anti-fascist battle of Cable Street.
Here are some of the controversial proposals to which Corbyn has yet to issue a response.
1. Requiring companies to publicly list how many foreign workers they employ.
Home secretary Amber Rudd’s proposal that firms should list their foreign workers swiftly drew strong online criticism from Labour and SNP MPs, including shadow home secretary Andy Burnham, who tweeted the headline with “Sorry, but no, we’re not having this”, followed by:
Even the Conservative-supporting Daily Telegraph condemned the measure as a “silly stunt” in a scathing leader column.
“Amber Rudd’s talk of forcing firms to declare what proportion of their workforce is foreign-born sounds alarmingly like an attempt to “name and shame” companies with foreign staff,” it said. “Instead of such silly stunts, ministers would be better to ask why firms chose to employ immigrants.”
2. Fining British doctors who work abroad, and suggesting foreign doctors working in the UK will be expelled.
Health secretary Jeremy Hunt announced plans to fine doctors who work overseas shortly after finishing their training, while in a TV interview Theresa May implied foreign doctors would only be allowed to remain for a limited period.
“There will be staff here from overseas in that interim period,” she said, “until the further number of British doctors are able to be trained and come on board in terms of being able to work in our hospitals. “
3. Using the right of EU citizens living in the UK to stay here as “one of our main cards” in Brexit talks.
International trade secretary Liam Fox refused to guarantee the rights of millions of EU citizens currently living in the UK post-Brexit, instead saying he would “like to be able to give a reassurance to EU nationals in the UK, but that depends on reciprocation by other countries”.
He said to guarantee those rights now “would be to hand over one of our main cards in the negotiations”.
4. Excluding combat soldiers from human rights rules.
Defence secretary Michael Fallon said the UK would in future apply a blanket exemption on human rights rules laid out in the European Convention of Human Rights for combat soldiers, saying the system had been abused.
“Our legal system has been abused to level false charges against our troops on an industrial scale,” he said on Tuesday.
The move was quickly condemned by the director of the human rights charity Liberty.
“The government cannot be allowed to leave its human rights commitments at our borders,” said Martha Spurrier. “Doing so will leave abuse victims unprotected and our troops powerless when the state fails to keep them safe from harm.
“The Convention on Human Rights isn’t just a document whose origins lie in the brutal lessons of 20th-century wars. It is directly relevant today.”
5. Relaxing housing rules on the minimum size of rooms so young people can have homes.
Housing minister Gavin Barwell suggested at the conference that rules on minimum standards for the size of new homes should be relaxed to build even smaller homes, as a measure to keep them affordable for younger buyers.
“I don’t know if anyone’s seen any of the schemes that Pocket housing have done where they’ve basically done a deal with the Greater London Authority to get some flexibility on space standards,” he said. “As a result they can offer a product well below market price.
“Now look: Most people, given the choice, would like to live in a nice big home. But I think for many young people – if I was 22 today, I would rather have the chance to own that than be priced out.”
As The Independent noted, the UK already builds the smallest new homes in Europe.
6. Announcing that the UK will have a “hard” Brexit and will almost certainly leave the single market, to crack down on immigration.
Theresa May took the unusual step of speaking twice at this year’s Tory conference, devoting her first speech on Sunday to Brexit. The prime minister announced she would trigger Article 50 by no later than March 2017, and gave the strongest hints yet the UK would not try to remain a member of the single market.
In the days following the remarks, the pound hit a new 31-year low against the dollar of $1.27.
7. Looking to restrict which universities can grant student visas, and what those visas allow.
Home secretary Amber Rudd devoted a substantial portion of her speech to recommitting to reducing immigration to the “tens of thousands”, and strongly hinted she would crack down on overseas students – a major source of revenue for the UK’s university sector, and thus a significant British export.
“The current system allows all students, irrespective of their talents and the university’s quality, favourable employment prospects when they stop studying,” she said. “While an international student is studying here, their family members can do any form of work.
“And foreign students, even those studying English language degrees, don’t even have to be proficient in speaking English. We need to look at whether this one-size-fits-all approach really is right for the hundreds of different universities providing thousands of different courses across the country.”
8. Making knowingly providing a home for illegal immigrants a criminal offence.
The crackdown on overseas students was just one of a range of measures to reduce immigration announced by the home secretary.
Earlier this year the government introduced mandatory ID checks on new tenants renting property in the UK. Rudd said this would be taken still further.
“Today, I am announcing that from December, landlords that knowingly rent out property to people who have no right to be here will be committing a criminal offence,” she said. “They could go to prison.”
Rudd also said immigration checks would be “mandatory” for anyone seeking a taxi licence, and that “from next autumn, banks will have to do regular checks to ensure they are not providing essential banking services to illegal migrants”.
The Labour party have issued a number of press releases through the week, all of which to date have been in the name of shadow ministers rather than the party leader. Additionally, many Labour MPs have appeared on television, tweeted, and given media interviews on the controversial policies announced through the week.
BuzzFeed News texted Jeremy Corbyn’s spokesman on Tuesday lunchtime with “two quick questions”: “Whereabouts is Jeremy this week? And whether he plans to respond to any of the stuff coming out of Tory conference”.
There had been no response by Wednesday morning.
Update: Jeremy Corbyn has been spotted buying upcycled knitwear in Bardon Mill, a village in Northumberland. He is on a trip walking a section of Hadrian’s wall with his wife, Laura.
Update 2: on Wednesday afternoon the Labour leader issued the following statement:
“Conservative Party leaders have sunk to a new low this week as they fan the flames of xenophobia and hatred in our communities and try to blame foreigners for their own failures.
“Drawing up lists of foreign workers won’t stop unscrupulous employers undercutting wages in Britain. Shutting the door to international students won’t pay young people’s tuition fee debts, and ditching doctors from abroad won’t cut NHS waiting lists.
“The Conservatives will instead foster division and discrimination in our workplaces and communities.
“Once again, they are making false promises on immigration they can’t deliver. Instead of turning people against each other, ministers should take action now to deal with the real impact of migration.
“They should stop the abuse of migrant labour to undercut pay and conditions, which would reduce numbers.
“They should support communities with high levels of migration and they should set out a positive agenda for fair migration rules as part of the Brexit negotiations for a new relationship with the European Union.”