Hilary Benn
Former Shadow Foreign Secretary Hilary Benn has weighed into the debate Ben Stanstall/ AFP

Labour's immigration policy row has failed to subside, with Hilary Benn weighing into the debate just hours before MPs hold their weekly meeting in the House of Commons on Monday night (12 December).

The former shadow foreign secretary said the 52% of Leave voters at the EU referendum "sent a message" about ending the free movement of people from the continent to the UK.

"A lot of people I met who were voting for Leave during the referendum said: 'Look we just want some control. It's not that we are arguing there should be no continued migration from the EU'," he told Sky News.

Benn, who chairs the influential Brexit Select Committee, made the comments a day after Diane Abbott's appearance on BBC One's Andrew Marr show.

The shadow home secretary said it would be "misleading" to say the party would "dump" support for free movement.

But Abbott also failed to criticise Labour's Greater Manchester Mayoral candidate Andy Burnham for claiming free movement had been "defeated at the ballot box."

A source close to the Labour front-bencher told IBTimes UK that "we do have immigration controls", in reaction to Benn's comments and pointing to a piece authored by Abbott for The Guardian.

Shadow Brexit Secretary Sir Keir Starmer, meanwhile, has backed reducing the UK's net migration levels.

"I think it should be reduced and it should be reduced by making sure we have the skills in this country that are needed for the jobs that need to be done," he told Marr in October.

The issue was a major theme of the EU referendum campaign, with Vote Leave endorsing an Australian-style visa system.

Home Secretary Amber Rudd recommitted the Conservatives to David Cameron's controversial "tens of thousands" net migration pledge.

But official figures from the Office for National Statistics (ONS) have showed levels have consistently been three times the government's target.

The latest data showed net migration to the UK hit more than 335,000 in the year to June 2016, according to the ONS.

The topic is expected to be major talking point of the Brexit negotiations between the UK and EU, which are expected to start by the end of March 2017.

EU chiefs, including European Council President Donald Tusk, have ruled out offering May "single market a la carte" – extensive access to the bloc and immigration curbs.

Free movement of people remains one of four fundamental principles for the political and economic union.