No Single Market, No Freedom of Movement
Theresa May has explicitly rejected membership of the single market in what has been the most important speech of her premiership thus far.
In her address, the British Prime Minister expressed that the referendum vote on 23rd June 2016 gives Britain the opportunity to become a "global trading nation".
Mrs May outlined the Government's key objectives for Britain when it comes to negotiating an agreement to leave the EU, these include:
- Maintaining the common travel area between the UK and Irish Republic
- Tariff-free trade with the EU
- A customs agreement with the EU
- Leaving the jurisdiction of the European Court of Justice
- New trade agreements with countries outside the EU
- Continued "practical" sharing of intelligence and policing information
- "Control" of immigration rights for EU citizens in the UK and UK citizens in the EU
- A "phased approach" rather than a lengthy transition agreement.
The rights of EU nationals currently residing in Britain
One point made clear in the speech was that the government wants to guarantee the rights of EU nationals currently residing in the UK as soon as possible. She also expects the same guarantees to be given regarding British nationals residing in the bloc.
The Prime Minister will no doubt be hoping that this statement may dampen fears that EU nationals, many of whom have lived in the UK for decades, will be used as bargaining chips during negotiations between London and Brussels.
However, many are deeply concerned about the Prime Minister's refusal to provide explicit assurances to EU nationals in her speech. Simon Hix, a political scientist and Professor of European and Comparative Politics at the London School of Economics and Political Science tweeted:
"I can (unwillingly) live with most of May's #BrexitSpeech. But refusal to grant residency to EU nationals currently in UK is sickening".
Control over EU immigration non-negotiable
One predictable outcome of the speech was Theresa May's dedication to the principle of controlling EU migration into Britain.
In leaving the single market, Britain will no longer have to abide by the principle of freedom of movement.
No one will be surprised by this stance. When her predecessor, David Cameron tried to implement plans to bring migration down the range of tens of thousands, he once commented that the only person who seemed to take him seriously was his then Home Secretary, Theresa May.
However, some have observed that Mrs May's obsession with controlling immigration may prove her undoing. Former Business Secretary, Vince Cable, told the Guardian in 2016 that a key sticking point in the years of failed negotiations between India and the EU was Mrs May's refusal to compromise on immigration whilst she was Home Secretary. Once we leave the single market, successfully being able to negotiate trade deals with emerging markets such as India, China and Brazil will be key in ensuring the country's economic success. India has already indicated it will not consider a trade deal with the UK if Westminster continues with its current policy of restricting post-study stay.
The Prime Minister may be forced to soften her stance with non-EU migrants to achieve her long-term trade deal objectives.
Despite her foreseeable commitment to controlling Britain's borders, the Prime Minister did her best to reassure UK businesses they would not be cut adrift from the EU labour market entirely. She clarified that Britain will continue welcoming the brightest talent from the bloc. Her comments seemed to support those made by Chancellor Philip Hammond and other ministers who have sought to reassure employers they will still be able to hire workers from the EU after Brexit. The technology and financial sector in particular have stated that any restrictions on their ability to recruit skilled workers from the EU would severely harm their ability to commit to remaining in Britain.
There is no doubt today's speech will be exhaustively analysed over the next few days, weeks and months to come. One thing we can be sure of is Theresa May meant what she said, "Brexit means Brexit".
Now, more than ever, it is imperative that EU nationals living in the UK apply for EU Permanent Residence Cards and, following on from that, British Citizenship.
Because this is really happening.
And we all need to ensure we are prepared for the uncertainty such unchartered territory may bring.
The team at Reiss Edwards consists of some of London's leading team of immigration solicitors. If you require expert legal advice on obtaining a Permanent Resident Card, British Citizenship, or any other matter relating to Brexit, please call us on 020 3744 2797.