Britain and other European countries should have no border controls, John McDonnell has suggested as he predicted there will be total free movement across the world one day.
Labour’s shadow chancellor said that “inevitably in this century we will have open borders” and added that boundaries between countries will become almost “irrelevant”.
Yvette Cooper, the former shadow home secretary, took to Twitter to publicly voice her opposition to the comments, saying that border checks were necessary.
It came as 120 senior economists from the UN, the World Bank and leading businesses wrote to David Cameron condemning his reaction to the refugee crisis as “seriously inadequate”.
The signatories attacked the Prime Minister’s response to the hundreds of thousands of people crossing the Mediterranean to reach Europe as “too slow, too low and too narrow”.
Mr McDonnell made his comments during an appearance on BBC One’s Sunday Politics show when he was asked about his thoughts on open borders first voiced at an event in 2013.
He said: “What I was arguing then–it was a piece of research by Rahila Gupta who was looking at the long-term future of the globe basically–is that inevitably in this century we will have open borders.
“We’re seeing it in Europe already. The movement of peoples across the globe will mean that borders are almost going to become irrelevant by the end of this century, so we should be preparing for that and explaining why people move.”
Asked again if he was talking about “total open borders” with “no controls”, Mr McDonnell said: “I think at the end of this century, that is what will occur.”
The comments jar with the party’s support of border controls at the last election and contradict previous comments from more moderate shadow cabinet ministers on immigration.
Within hours of the interview Ms Cooper, the chair of Labour’s refugee task force, made public her disagreement with the shadow chancellor’s comments.
The Labour MP for Normanton, Pontefract and Castleford tweeted that she had a “very different view on borders to John McDonnell” and said “checks and sanctuary” were needed to manage the refugee crisis.
Ms Cooper later said: “Border checks are really important for managing the refugee crisis–including stopping trafficking gangs, protecting child refugees who are disappearing in Europe, making sure proper asylum assessments take place so refugees get swift help and preventing people from travelling illegally if they are not refugees and have a safe home to return to.”
She told The Huffington Post: “At a time of extremist and terrorist threats, countries also need strong border checks for example to stop their own citizens going to join Isil, or to prevent terrorists, extremists or criminals travelling with guns or weapons. And of course governments need to be able to manage and enforce immigration rules in the interests of the country and the economy.”
In a letter to the Prime Minister some of Britain’s leading economists raised concerns about the government’s response to the crisis including Lord Mark Malloch Brown, the former deputy secretary-general at the United Nations, and Peter Sutherland, the former Chairman of Goldman Sachs International.
The letter said: “The Government’s current policy is based on the misguided premise that refugees will be deterred from travelling to the EU by refusing to take in those who have arrived and by refusing to offer safe or legal routes by which to come.
“That misunderstands the intolerable ‘push’ factors that are forcing people out of countries of persecution and from neighbouring countries in which a humanitarian disaster is escalating in the camps.”
It added: “Instead, the failure to offer safe, legal routes into the EU is forcing refugees to rely on the services of people smugglers and to risk death and injury; and the failure to take in refugees from other EU member states is contributing to a further humanitarian disaster in the peripheral EU countries this Winter.”