Ms Abbott categorically ruled out the imposition of any numerical migration targets but admitted Labour’s position on free movement will remain unclear until the party’s election manifesto is signed off on Saturday.
Setting out her vision for the Home Office, the Hackney North and Stoke Newington MP since 1987 said it would not be about rebranding the department but overhauling the “fundamentals”.
“It would not be haunted, if you like, by the idea that its job is to stop people coming in or to get more people out,” she said. “It would be about an efficient system which reflects the best of British values and also speaks to what sort of society we are and how migrants help build that society.”
Asked to elaborate on her priority of implementing a “fair and just” immigration system, Ms Abbott, one of Jeremy Corbyn’s closest allies, said: “It means a system where things like the Windrush scandal could never happen.
“It means, for instance, family values, so we want to make sure people can’t have their family members deported. That people can bring their wives to join them without having to meet some kind of income gap. We want to at the very least repeal the 2014 Immigration Act, which is one of the cornerstones of the hostile environment.”
Ms Abbott, who worked as a civil servant at the department before being elected to parliament, added she was sceptical about “just changing nameplates” at the Home Office. “You have to look at the structure of the Home Office, you have to look at the value and culture of the Home Office.
“I’m not just about rebranding, I’m about, and Jeremy is about, a different way of doing government. Just rebranding, changing the nameplates, that doesn’t deal with the fundamentals. I’ve spent 30 years dealing with the fundamentals, day in, day out, with the cases I get.”
Speaking ahead of a gathering of senior Labour figures to finalise the party’s manifesto – known as the “Clause V” meeting – Ms Abbott also hinted some of the motions passed at the party’s annual conference would be watered down.
One of the most radical resolutions backed by Labour members included maintaining and extending free movement rights, and providing the vote in national elections to all UK residents. “There are a lot of resolutions passed at party conferences,” Ms Abbott said.
“Not every resolution passed at party conference is going to find its way in its entirety into the manifesto. But what I would say is those members who voted for that resolution, irrespective of the specifics, they want to see a fairer and more just and more radical immigration policy, and that’s what we’re going to give them.”
But Ms Abbott insisted no numerical targets, or caps, would be put forward by the Labour leadership, and added: “I’ve said over and over again that we’re not going to go for numerical targets for migration.”
Highlighting Conservatives manifesto pledges to reduce immigration to the tens of thousands – a target that was never met – she said this was evidence of targets not being “helpful in shaping common-sense immigration policy”.
Now contesting her ninth general election, Ms Abbott was also optimistic about Labour’s chances of defeating Boris Johnson at the ballot box in 26 days’ time. “I’m predicting we’re going to win,” she said.
She continued: “I predicted in 2017 when we were 20 points behind just before the election that we would eliminate the gap and we actually did eliminate the gap. Almost eliminated the gap. I believe if the 2017 election had gone on a couple of weeks longer we could have won.”
“The polls are going in a direction of travel – the right direction of travel. We got a big bump when we actually published the manifesto. We expect to get a big bump when we publish the manifesto next time.”
At her home in east London, the shadow home secretary added that it was “sad” to see Labour’s deputy leader, Tom Watson, resign just after the general election was called. “Well, you know, I’m not close friends with Tom Watson,” she said. “But I’ve known him a long time.”
Ms Abbott insisted his successor must be a woman, and pointed to “excellent female candidates”, including shadow education secretary Angela Rayner, shadow business secretary Rebecca Long-Bailey, and the shadow women and equalities minister Dawn Butler.
Asked whether she intended running for the role, she replied: “I did my bit on those matters. I ran for the leadership – and the mayor of London. I’m not proposing to run.” Pressed again, she added: “No, not at this time.”
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