18th Mar 2018

UK seeks 'unique' EU relations, migrant controls

  • May at Chequers: "We must continue to be very clear that 'Brexit means Brexit', that we’re going to make a success of it" (Photo: 10 Downing Street)

The British government has said it would not accept free movement of EU workers after Brexit, but still wanted “unique” access to the single market.

A spokeswoman for British prime minister Theresa May outlined the position after May’s cabinet met for post-summer talks at her official retreat, Chequers, in London on Wednesday (31 August).

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“Several cabinet members made it clear that we are leaving the EU but not leaving Europe, with a decisive view that the model we are seeking is one unique to the United Kingdom and not an off-the-shelf solution,” the spokeswoman said.

“This must mean controls on the numbers of people who come to Britain from Europe but also a positive outcome for those who wish to trade goods and services”.

The PM herself said there was no question of undoing the EU referendum.

“We must continue to be very clear that ‘Brexit means Brexit’, that we’re going to make a success of it. That means there’s no second referendum; no attempts to sort of stay in the EU by the back door; that we’re actually going to deliver on this”, she said at Chequers.

“We’ll also be looking at the opportunities that are now open to us as we forge a new role for the UK in the world”, she added.

The hard line on EU migrants was matched by an equally hard line against Brexit opponents at home.

The PM’s office ruled out holding a vote on leaving the EU in parliament, where many MPs oppose the move, and said that Northern Ireland and Scotland, which had voted to remain, would not be able to veto the process.

“There was a strong emphasis on pushing ahead to article 50 to lead Britain successfully out of the European Union - with no need for a parliamentary vote,” May’s spokeswoman said, referring to the EU treaty clause that governs the procedure.

“Cabinet members were clear that it is the United Kingdom’s government’s decision to establish its terms and on when to trigger article 50”, she added.

EU red lines

Top EU officials and some EU leaders, such as French president Francois Hollande, have said the UK cannot block free movement of people and keep full market access.

But the European Commission’s vice-president, Frans Timmermans, said in an interview with the AFP news agency also on Wednesday that the EU wanted an amicable outcome.

“The United Kingdom is not going anywhere. It’s going to be geographically where it is now. The Channel is not going to get any broader,” he said.

“So, in that sense, the UK will remain a European country even if it’s not a member of the European Union and that should be the basis, I believe, for the negotiations.”

The British opposition reacted angrily to May’s decision on the parliamentary vote

“It is sheer, high-handed arrogance for them to say they will take all the decisions themselves, with no consultation of parliament or the public, with the devolved administrations consulted but not listened to,” the opposition Labour Party’s shadow foreign minister, Emily Thornberry, said.

But the Labour party’s power to hold the government to account has weakened amid internal wrangling over its own leadership.

A new ICM/Guardian poll on Wednesday put May’s Tory party on 41 percent, with Labour slipping one point to 27 percent.

’Existential issue’

Timmermans did voice frustration that the UK, two months after the referendum, still had no detailed Brexit plan.

“They should … get their act together and tell us what they really want out of this”, he said. “The onus is on the country that decides to leave to tell us how they want to leave”.

He also warned that the British vote to “take back control” risked tearing the EU apart as other member states pondered what they want from Europe.

“This is an existential issue for the whole of Europe, not just for the UK”, he said.

The Dutch politician, who oversees issues relating to justice and EU values, said the nature of the Brexit campaign, which had compared the EU to Nazi Germany, had created a difficult “dynamic in British society”.

His comments came after the murder in Harlow, in southeast England, of Arkadiusz Jozwik, a Polish immigrant, earlier this week in what police are investigating as a potential hate crime.

The killing came amid a sharp increase in hate speech against Polish nationals and vandalism of Polish shops in the wake of the EU referendum.

“Some people in the Polish community are frightened about what happened”, Ivona Schulz-Nalepka, the director of a Polish school in Harlow, told the BBC.

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