Chuka Umunna has told Jeremy Corbyn to listen to the worries of traditional Labour voters on immigration, after the party leader indicated he would use his speech to the party conference in Liverpool to defend migration.
The former Labour shadow cabinet minister told BuzzFeed News that the party should not "give the impression to any part of the Labour support coalition that we are not listening to their concerns".
"It would be a grave mistake to ignore the fact that immigration poses challenges to local labour markets in some areas and in respect to social cohesion," said Umunna. "It doesn't need to be that way if you have the right policies."
Immigration policy has become one of the biggest policy differences between pro- and anti-Corbyn Labour MPs following the Brexit vote in the EU referendum, which drew attention to the level of anti-immigrant sentiment in many Labour seats.
On Tuesday Corbyn's aides said the leader would not actively campaign to reduce current levels of immigration, in a reversal of Ed Miliband's 2015 election pledge to support tougher controls on people moving to the UK. Some anti-Corbyn MPs believe this approach will lose the support of many voters in the party's heartlands who could be tempted to vote for the likes of UKIP.
Andy Burnham told the party conference on Wednesday that many Labour supporters "voted for change on immigration" during the EU referendum, while Yvette Cooper warned Corbyn that Labour should have a "thoughtful debate" on immigration and insisted it "isn't racist to talk about how best every country manages migration".
Rather than actively seek to reduce the number of people moving to the UK, Corbyn will instead pledge to reduce the impact of migrants on public services by reinstating the migrant impact fund, which previously directed funds towards areas with high immigration.
Umunna said Labour needed to find a policy that suits both "those who have a view on immigration in metropolitan urban areas" and those with different views from "rural or more white working-class areas".
"If we don't try and bring those people together, which is part of the historic mission of the Labour party to bring together everybody, then we will not be fulfilling our duty and we will not making our values real," he said.
"We as a party have got to listen to both sides of the debate on immigration in this county. If anyone can help find a way through it that unites everyone, it's the Labour party, but if the Labour party's not listening then it's not going to be able to fulfil that function."
Umunna also warned that the Conservative government's current attempts to reduce levels of immigration to the UK are unachievable and will "undermine trust in the system".
"It's not just an issue of numbers," he said. "It's an issue of how people settle and integrate once they're here, and we've got to end our laissez-faire approach to integration in this country."
Jim Waterson is a politics editor for BuzzFeed News and is based in London.
Contact Jim Waterson at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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