Labour candidate Gareth Snell campaigning with Jeremy Corbyn in Stoke-on-Trent
Gareth Snell, who is bidding to hold the Stoke-on-Trent Central seat for his party, insisted the “status quo is not an option” when it comes to post-Brexit migration controls.
The local borough councillor is hoping to be elected in the Staffordshire city next Thursday, in an area where nearly 70 per cent of residents voted for the quit the EU.
Support for Brexit was even as high as 80 per cent in some parts of Stoke on June 23.
Remain-backer Mr Snell, who previously described Brexit as a “pile of s***”, is battling against Ukip leader Paul Nuttall in the February 23 by-election.
With Stoke residents having also voiced concerns over unrestricted EU immigration, Mr Snell struck a stronger tone on EU free movement rules than party leader Mr Corbyn.
In a keynote speech last month, the Labour leader watered-down pre-briefed remarks on freedom of movement for EU nationals and voiced his opposition to immigration targets.
Mr Corbyn claimed his party is “not wedded” to EU free movement “as a point of principle”, but insisted his comments should not be “misinterpreted” and Labour would not “rule it out”.
Asked how Labour could respond to local immigration concerns in Stoke, Mr Snell told Express.co.uk: “I recognise there are real and legitimate concerns in Stoke-on-Trent about how the immigration system is working.
“Is Labour wedded to freedom of movement? No.
“We have been clear on that and both our shadow Brexit secretary [Sir Keir Starmer] and leadership have said that changes to free movement will be part of Brexit negotiations.
“The status quo is not an option and there is a consensus that, when we leave the EU, the immigration regime – both EU and non-EU – will have to change.”
The status quo is not an option and there is a consensus that, when we leave the EU, the immigration regime will have to change
Labour candidate Gareth Snell
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The Stoke-on-Trent Central contest was sparked by the resignation of former Labour MP Tristram Hunt, who has taken a role with the V&A Museum.
Labour has held the Staffordshire seat since it was created in 1950 but the party are expected to be run close by Mr Nuttall’s campaign.
The Ukip leader yesterday suffered a setback in his bid to be elected to Parliament after admitting claims made on his website that he lost close friends at the Hillsborough disaster were false.
Despite his previous comments on Brexit, Mr Snell insisted he had “made it clear to the people of Stoke-on-Trent that I will support their decision” to leave the EU.
He said: “There’s no question on that. I have always said that, if I had a vote [in Parliament], I would be voting for Article 50.
“However, I have said repeatedly that the Government’s approach to Brexit is a mess, and I stand by that.
“No one knows what the Prime Minister’s plan is, and if she gets it wrong, it will be working people in Stoke-on-Trent who will pay the price.
“Now that Britain has spoken on Brexit, what matters to people here is protecting jobs and crucial public services in Stoke-on-Trent.
“Only Labour will fight for the best possible Brexit deal. My focus will be on protecting jobs, public services and workers’ rights in the Potteries – basic entitlements for working people like sick pay, holiday pay and maternity cover and high quality jobs.
“I will hold the Government to account all the way and fight for services in our city.”
Things you didn't know about Jeremy Corbyn
Thu, March 17, 2016
Random facts you didn't know about Labour leader Jeremy Corbyn.
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Things you didn't know about Labour leader Jeremy Corbyn
Liberal Democrat leader Tim Farron has made a number of visits to Stoke in support of his candidate Dr Zulfiqar Ali, with the pro-EU party hoping to attract the backing of Remain voters as well as students at Staffordshire University.
Mr Farron recently described Labour as an “utterly pointless” official opposition to the Government over Brexit, but Mr Snell hit back at the Liberal Democrat leader’s claims.
He said: “The Lib Dems showed their true colours in Government in the cuts coalition with the Tories.
“Voters in Stoke-on-Trent who have seen their NHS in crisis and children’s centres threatened by closure know that only Labour can be trusted to speak up for jobs and services after Brexit.
“I’ve been totally clear on this – I voted for Remain last year, but I completely respect that the people of Britain and of Stoke-on-Trent voted to leave the EU.
“The referendum has happened and Brexit means we are out of the EU. I have made it 100 per cent clear that if I had a vote, I would be voting for Article 50.
“Lib Dems have chosen to speak only for Remain voters; UKIP for Leave. Labour must work to unite a divided country.”