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BREXIT – Back to the Polls (AGAIN)

Just when you thought it was safe to think that the Brexit process was done and dusted, another bombshell drops.  In a U-turn worthy of Ted Heath, Prime Minister Theresa May announced that she was calling a snap election on the issue of Brexit, despite having previously insisted that she had no intention to do so on many occasions.

Ostensibly the election has been called by the Conservatives to “strengthen their hand” during the Brexit negotiations – though a more cynical observer might surmise that the Government, riding high in the polls, is seizing an opportunity to increase their majority.  As the UK is now subject to the Fixed-Term Parliaments Act 2011 the Government was required to win a vote in the House of Commons with a two-thirds majority to enable an election to take place.  A vote was duly held on 19th April, which the Government clearly won with a staggering 522 to 13 votes, and a general election will duly follow on Thursday 8th June.

One advantage of a General Election taking place is that it forces all political parties to clarify what their policies are, and in particular their stance towards Brexit and EU Immigration.  Although the parties are as yet to launch their election manifestos (which are no doubt being written at breakneck speed as I write), all have given clear indications as to where their intentions lie, which can be summarised as follows:

Theresa May is clear that she is seeking a mandate for the Conservative’s “Brexit means Brexit” mantra.  What this actually means was outlined during her speech at Lancaster House in January, which gave the Government’s 12 Brexit objectives, including objective number five “Control of Immigration”. In practice this means an end to Free Movement – instead she says,

Brexit must mean control of the number of people who come to Britain from Europe.”,

which in turns means an end to membership of the Single Market.  The Tories state that they wish to protect the rights of EU nationals living in the UK, but only if the rights of UK nationals in the EU are similarly protected – so they are not guaranteed. The Government also believes that “no deal for Britain is better than a bad deal”, leaving open the possibility of a “Hard Brexit” – one in which the UK crashes out of the EU with no transitional arrangements in place.  What this nuclear option would mean for EU immigration in practice is unclear.

The Labour Party, however, faces far more of a dilemma. While their Metropolitan seats are firm Remain strongholds, the northern Labour heartlands voted overwhelmingly to Leave, which rather leaves the Labour Party trying to square a circle.  To date their approach to Brexit has mirrored this conundrum – on the one hand supporting the Government in the vote to trigger Article 50, whilst

subsequently outlining “6 tests” that the Government’s Brexit negotiations must meet to win future Labour support.  These tests included a “Fair migration system for UK business and communities”, which accepts that Free Movement as it currently stands will no longer be possible.  So far, so Tory.

On the other hand, however, Labour is also trying to differentiate themselves from the Tories in a bid to placate their Remain supporters. Whilst confirming that

“moving away from freedom of movement has to be part of the referendum result”,

the Shadow Brexit Minister, Kier Starmer said that Labour would like to stay within the Single Market and Customs Union, and will put any negotiated deal to a Parliamentary vote, with “No Deal” being the worst option. More strikingly, Labour have pledged to guarantee the rights of EU Nationals to stay in the UK “from day one” after Brexit, regardless as to whether UK Nationals receive a reciprocal deal with the other 27 EU member states.

The Liberal Democrats go somewhat further than Labour, having nailed their Remain credentials firmly to the post.  Their aim is to prevent a Hard Brexit, so at “the very minimum (Britain should) to remain a member of the Single Market”, which by implication would also require the UK to maintain Free Movement.  The Lib Dems have consistently campaigned for the rights of EU Nationals to stay in the UK but go further than Labour in terms of a Brexit deal by promising “to give the British people a vote” by holding a further referendum once the terms of the deal are negotiated.

The Green Party shares a similar position to the Liberal Democrats in terms of EU Immigration and indeed in some circumstances the Greens and Lib Dems are co-operating in some seats to prevent splitting the anti-Brexit vote. Finally, UKIP, the party who arguably caused the EU Referendum to happen in the first place, have so far had very little to say on Brexit in terms of the election, other than to support the Conservatives towards a Hard Brexit and to withdraw from seats held by prominent Tory Brexiteers to support that aim.

The current positions of the main UK-wide parties are therefore as follows:

Party Continue EU Free Movement Single Market Membership Guarantee EU Nationals Rights 2nd Parliamentary Vote/Referendum
Conservatives No No No No
Greens Yes Yes Yes Yes
Labour No Maybe Yes Yes
Lib Dems Yes Yes Yes Yes
UKIP No No No No

Whatever the result of the General Election, it’s clear that Brexit is here to stay – though in what format we’ll find out on June 8th.  In the meantime, HJT Training will stay abreast of all developments to keep you informed as and when they occur…..

 

28th April 2017

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