LABOUR has admitted it made a mistake by staying silent about immigration when in government, on the same day the Office for National Statistics admitted it underestimated net migration by almost 350,000 people.
In a speech yesterday, shadow home secretary Yvette Cooper called for an “honest conversation” on the issues but admitted that her party had made mistakes when in power.
“We will never compete in an arms race of rhetoric. We will never conduct the debate in a way that whips up tensions and hostility. Nor will we stay silent – as too often we did while in government,” Cooper said, adding: “Nor will we ignore or dismiss legitimate voices of concern, and pretend we can wish problems away.”
The speech was designed to tackle Labour’s perceived lack of credibility on immigration, after concerns over the way citizens of new European countries are allowed to live and work in the UK without strict controls.
The concerns have lead to a surge in popularity for Ukip leader Nigel Farage, who pledges to get tough on immigration.
Cooper promised a future Labour government would design stronger controls and distinguish between different types of non-EU immigration to make the system fairer.
However, the speech came on the same day that the ONS admitted it had failed to accurately measure the net number of EU migrants coming into the UK between 2001 and 2011, largely under a Labour government.
The organisation admitted that a mistake in the way data was collected by the International Passenger Survey meant migrants landing at regional airports were not counted. This lead to an under estimate of 346,000 people.
The figures also affect the Prime Minister’s target to get migration down to the tens of thousands by 2015. A spokesman for David Cameron said yesterday he remains committed to the target and to introducing exit checks to accurately measure migration in and out of the UK by 2015, a target a Labour aide called a “pipe dream”.