May to emphasise immigration control in selling Brexit deal
No preferential treatment for EU citizens after Brexit, UK prime minister says
Theresa May will today seek sell her Brexit deal to people who voted to leave the European Union because of immigration, telling them that the draft withdrawal agreement returns full control of immigration policy to Britain.
With the prospect of a confidence vote in her leadership still hanging over her, the British prime minister will tell a Confederation of British Industry conference that European Union citizens will not receive preferential treatment after Brexit.
“Instead of a system based on where a person is from, we will have one that is built around the talents and skills a person has to offer,” she will say. “Not only will this deliver on the verdict of the referendum, it should lead to greater opportunity for young people in this country to access training and skilled employment.”
Mrs May hopes to travel to Brussels this week, ahead of a special EU summit next Sunday, to sign off on a political declaration on the future relationship between Britain and the EU. This will accompany the withdrawal agreement approved by the British cabinet last week.
She could yet face a confidence vote among Conservative MPs after a number of Brexiteers wrote letters in an attempt to trigger a ballot. However, Sir Graham Brady, chairman of the party’s 1922 committee, yesterday said he had not yet received the 48 letters required to hold a ballot, and that he believed Mrs May would win any confidence vote.
Opponents of Mrs May are six letters short of the threshold to trigger a no confidence vote, according to The Sun. The newspaper said 25 had publicly declared they have submitted letters, while a further 17 have privately said they have written to the chairman.
The DUP, which props up the minority Tory administration in Westminster, continues to express concern about the draft deal. Its deputy leader Nigel Dodds yesterday cited the comments of former Brexit secretary Dominic Raab, who resigned because of his opposition to the deal.
“[Mr Raab] says it takes a very predatory approach to Northern Ireland, that the cabinet was told Northern Ireland will be treated as a third country for regulatory purposes, and that absolutely it threatens the union,” Mr Dodds said.
“These are exactly the reasons why Northern Ireland unionism stands united in opposition to this draft withdrawal agreement.”
Mrs May warned that toppling her would not help Britain secure a better deal from the EU and could stop Brexit from happening at all.
“A change of leadership at this point isn’t going to make the negotiations any easier, and it’s not going to change the parliamentary arithmetic,” she told Sky News. “What it will do is bring in a degree of uncertainty, that’s uncertainty for people and their jobs, and what it will do is mean that it will be a risk if we delay those negotiations, and that’s a risk if Brexit gets delayed and frustrated.”
Five cabinet ministers want Mrs May to seek a renegotiation of the withdrawal agreement to allow Britain to leave the Northern Ireland backstop unilaterally. But Mrs May ruled out seeking a unilateral exit mechanism from the backstop.
Taoiseach Leo Varadkar said his focus remained on getting the draft withdrawal agreement ratified. “Let’s get busy working on the future relationship. If we get the future relationship right we may never need the backstop,” he told RTÉ.
Meanwhile, former British prime minister Tony Blair has described the draft deal as “a recipe for future chaos” and a “bad deal for both sides”.
“Europe’s attitude is: ‘We agree this is crazy, but hey, if that’s what you guys want, okay.’ But it isn’t what we want,” he writes in today’s Irish Times. “For the Brexiteers this is not really Brexit. For ardent remainers like me, it is a ridiculous outcome for the country. For both leavers and remainers it is not the best of a bad job, but the worst of both worlds.”