Much opposition to free movement in Brexit transition, survey finds

Two-thirds of Tory MPs oppose ECJ jurisdiction over Britain during transition period

Britain’s opposition Labour Party leader Jeremy Corbyn: nine out of 10 Labour MPs reject his view continued membership of the single market is incompatible with Brexit. Photograph: PRU/Paul Ellis/AFP

Three out of four Conservative MPs believe it is unacceptable for the free movement of people to continue during a transition period after Britain leaves the European Union in March 2019, according to a survey published on Monday. The research, conducted by Ipsos Mori for UK in a Changing Europe and Queen Mary University, found that almost two out of three Conservative MPs oppose the European Court of Justice (ECJ) having any jurisdiction over Britain during the transition.

The EU Council of Ministers is next week expected to approve a negotiation mandate for a transition of up to two years during which the trading arrangement between Britain and the EU would remain unchanged. Theresa May has acknowledged that, in such a standstill transition, free movement and ECJ jurisdiction would continue.

Labour MPs are also out of tune with their leader, with nine out of 10 rejecting Jeremy Corbyn's view that continued membership of the single market is incompatible with Brexit. Anand Menon, director of UK in a Changing Europe, said Brexit presented a stark challenge to both main party leaders.

“Their views are at odds with those of their own MPs. This promises to cause significant problems for both Theresa May and Jeremy Corbyn. The prime minister, in particular, might face considerable opposition from her own backbenchers when it comes to securing the kind of transitional deal she has indicated she wants,” he said.


Single market

Most MPs in both parties favoured a relatively soft Brexit, with 80 per cent of Conservatives saying they wanted a deal with no tariffs and few non-tariff barriers while a majority in Labour want to remain in the single market.

French president Emmanuel Macron said on Sunday no future relationship could be as deep as that which Britain enjoys today as a member state of the EU.

“So you have to be realistic, and be fair with people – as you decided to leave and not be part of the single market, that’s a function of the nature of the negotiation. You can have some deeper relations than some others. For instance, we have a deeper relationship with Norway than the one we have with Canada. So it depends on the outcome of the negotiations. But for sure – except if you change your mind – you will not be part of the single market, as you will not be part of the European Union,” he told the BBC.

The head of the Confederation of British Industry (CBI), which lobbies for British business, will on Monday call for more clarity in Britain’s approach to the Brexit negotiations. Caroline Fairbairn will propose that Britain should remain in a customs union with the EU until the value of other international trade deals can be established.

Frictionless trade

“There may come a day when the opportunity to fully set independent trade policies outweighs the value of a customs union with the EU. A day when investing time in fast-growing economies elsewhere eclipses the value of frictionless trade in Europe. But that day hasn’t yet arrived,” she will say.

Labour favours remaining in the customs union after Brexit but shadow chancellor John McDonnell restated the party leadership’s position that Britain should negotiate access to the single market rather than remain within it. He predicted the EU would soften its position in the negotiations and agree to a deal that included full market access for Britain’s financial services.

“I actually think there is a deal to be had because it isn’t just the City of London, the financial sector in London benefiting our own country, it benefits Europe as a whole because it brings together the opportunity of investors joining together and investing in Europe as well as Britain,” he said.

Denis Staunton

Denis Staunton

Denis Staunton is China Correspondent of The Irish Times