Public services and businesses would be in a “terrible position” if there was a big reduction in migration post-Brexit, Labour’s Diane Abbott has told the BBC.
The shadow home secretary said business group the CBI, health and social care say “they need these European migrants – and we have to listen to them”.
She said Labour did not back a second referendum. Deputy leader Tom Watson said nothing should be ruled out.
The Conservatives said Labour’s approach to Brexit was a “shambles”.
Ms Abbott was asked on the Andrew Marr show about her front bench colleague Sir Keir Starmer’s interview last week, in which he agreed that Labour backed “easy movement” of workers after it had left the EU’s single market.
She said “most people agree” that some of the bureaucracy around migration had to be reduced.
“I think that’s what we were referencing when we talked about easy movement – less bureaucracy; it’s good for migrants but it’s also good for business”.
Asked whether EU nationals would need visas to work in the UK under a Labour government, she replied: “We will have to see how this negotiation goes.”
She said there would be “fair rules and a reasonable management of migration” after Brexit if Labour were in power, to replace freedom of movement, which ends when the UK leaves the EU’s single market.
Asked if she expected the number of EU migrants would reduce after Brexit under Labour, she said: “The health service, they’re very worried about a collapse in the number of EU migrants coming here.
“Social care would be in a terrible position…. finance, education, so we will be listening, as the government should be listening, to what business and the public sector says about its needs for labour.
“The reality is that business, the CBI, the Institute of Directors, but also health, education and social care; they say that they need these European migrants and we have to listen to them.”
Ms Abbott was also asked about a letter written to constituents, reported in the Guardian, in which she said “I will argue for the right of the electorate to vote on any deal that is finally agreed.”
Denying it implied she was calling for a second referendum, she told the BBC: “The Labour Party doesn’t support a second referendum”.
Instead she said MPs “who represent the electorate” would get a vote, following last week’s Commons defeat for the prime minister.
But asked about a potential second referendum, Labour’s Deputy Leader Tom Watson told BBC Pienaar’s Politics that, while he felt it was not likely: “When you’re in complex negotiations on behalf of the nation you shouldn’t rule anything out. ”
Immigration Minister Brandon Lewis said the interviews showed “Labour’s approach to Brexit is a shambles.
“They won’t rule out a second referendum, and can’t say what their policy is on immigration or continuing to pay into the EU.
“Just as we have agreed a deal which means getting control of our laws, money and borders, Labour would take us back to square one.”
Liberal Democrat leader Sir Vince Cable, whose party backs a referendum on the final Brexit deal, said Mr Watson’s comments were “encouraging and a tacit acknowledgment that this is what the British public increasingly wants”.
But, he added, while Labour “keep saying they won’t rule things out – it’s about time they started ruling things in”.
The Conservatives’ aim since 2010 has been to reduce net migration to below 100,000. Neither Prime Minister Theresa May nor her predecessor, David Cameron, have come close to meeting that target.
The Office for National Statistics reported last month that net migration is estimated to have fallen by nearly a third to 230,000 in the year to June 2017.
In this 12-month period, 572,000 people arrived in the UK, and 342,000 emigrated.
Immigration specifically fell by 80,000 people over the year – and three-quarters of that drop was down to fewer EU citizens coming to live in the UK, figures showed