Labour's immigration speech overshadowed by Tesco/Next row

Labour’s shadow immigration minister Chris Bryant was forced to defend his criticisms of Tesco and Next made in a speech on Labour’s immigration policy earlier today (today's speech in full).

In the leaked version of the speech, Bryant criticised “unscrupulous employers” who choose to use cheaper foreign workers over British candidates in an attempt to save money – naming both Next for brining hundreds of Polish workers to Britain to staff the summer sale, and Tesco for moving its distribution centre to somewhere it could pay lower wages.

Bryant had originally been due to say:

It is unfair that unscrupulous employers whose only interest seems to be finding labour as cheaply as possible will recruit workers in large numbers in low-wage countries in the EU … Take the case of Tesco … they recently decided to move a distribution centre in the south-east. The new centre is larger and employs more people. But it has been alleged that the staff at the original site were told that they could only move to the new centre if they took a cut in pay. The result? A bigger percentage of the staff at the new centre are from eastern bloc countries.

Both Next and Tesco reacted angrily to the claims, and Bryant later said the word “unscrupulous” was to describe “another category of people", rather than Tesco and Next.

The actual speech he gave was toned down and had a number of caveats explaining, for example, that Tesco is “a good employer and an important source of jobs”.

The conflict over the naming of these two companies overshadowed coverage of the rest of the speech, which included Labour's policies on enforcement, free movement within the EU, and issues with sham marriages and marriage to foreign nationals.