* Corbyn says Labour not wedded to free movement of Labour
* But says it should not be ruled out if helps win trade
* Wants to narrow pay gap between executives and their staff
(Adds speech, reaction)
By Elizabeth Piper
LONDON, Jan 10 Britain's main opposition Labour
Party backs "the reasonable management of migration", its leader
said on Tuesday in a speech aimed at winning back millions of
traditional supporters who backed Britain's split from the
But Jeremy Corbyn fudged a planned commitment that his
pro-EU party was no longer "wedded" to the idea of free movement
- a pillar of the European Union that, he said, could not be
ruled out if it helped Britain win trade access.
In his first major speech this year, Corbyn set out his
Brexit strategy more than six months after Britain voted to
leave the EU to try to silence critics who say he has failed to
challenge Prime Minister Theresa May with an alternative plan.
By offering workers higher wages and protection against
undercutting by ruthless bosses, Corbyn hopes to ease concerns
among Labour voters who feel the party is not in tune with their
fears over immigration and to staunch their exodus to parties
such as the anti-EU UK Independence Party.
"Labour is not wedded to freedom of movement for EU citizens
as a point of principle, but I don't want that to be
misinterpreted, nor do we rule it out," he told supporters in
the English city of Peterborough, which voted strongly in favour
of leaving the EU.
"We support fair rules and the reasonable management of
migration as part of the post-Brexit relationship with the EU,
while putting jobs and living standards first in the
Since becoming party leader over a year ago, Corbyn has
struggled to put his stamp on a party which has been pro-EU for
more than two decades and was blindsided on Brexit by the more
organised ruling Conservative Party, which enjoys a slim
majority in parliament and has largely driven the debate.
A socialist on the left of his party, Corbyn has criticised
the bloc for being in thrall to big business and said he would
find ways to close the income gap between bosses and their
workers by addressing pay ratios.
Corbyn had said earlier he was in favour of a cap on
executive pay, but questioned after his speech he said that idea
was one of a number alternatives.
He said looking at pay ratios would "encourage wage rises
lower down and ensure a better sharing of resources".
Supporters hoped Corbyn's speech would "rebrand" the veteran
campaigner as a more populist figure to boost ratings that have
been dwarfed by those of May's Conservatives. The latest poll
gives the Conservatives a 14 point lead with 42 percent.
But despite acknowledging that many voters supported Brexit
because of high rates of immigration, Corbyn would not be drawn
on whether he wanted levels of immigration to fall.
Labour has long backed freedom of movement - one of the EU's
main principles - which the bloc says must be respected if
Britain is to maintain its preferential access to the single
market of 500 million consumers.
Corbyn said migration levels should depend on what kind of
preferential access Britain would get to the single market.
"We cannot afford to lose full access to the European
markets on which so many British businesses and jobs depend," he
(Reporting by Elizabeth Piper; editing by Richard Lough)