Theresa May rejected Michel Barnier’s claim that the UK must abide by EU free movement rules
In a warning to Brussels ahead of the next round of talks, the Prime Minister rejected a claim from EU chief negotiator Michel Barnier that the UK must continue to abide by full EU free movement rules throughout the expected post-Brexit two-year transition period.
Campaigners have estimated that nearly a million more EU citizens could get the right to settle permanently in Britain if the EU gets its way rather than allowing the UK’s new border controls to begin on the day the country quits the bloc next year.
Throwing down the gauntlet to Brussels, Mrs May insisted the issue remained “a matter for negotiation” and indicated her willingness to defend Britain’s position on the crucial issue.
She argued that EU citizens cannot expect to enjoy the same settlement rights they do at present once the country leaves the bloc.
On the 19th of March 2019 we will leave the European Union
Ministers were dismayed earlier this week when Mr Barnier put forward the end of the so-called “implementation period” as the date for ending EU free movement to the UK.
His remark ignored negotiation guidelines agreed between the two sides at the end of last year that appeared to designate the official departure date on 29 March next year as the point when Britain’s new border rules will come into force.
Speaking on a flight to China for a three-day official visit, Mrs May told reporters the EU should stick to the previously agreed position.
Rejecting suggestions that the free movement agreement had been “torn up” by Mr Barnier, she said: “What we’ve seen is some guidelines in relation to negotiations on the implementation period that are coming up.
“When we agreed the citizen’s rights deal in November we agreed them on the basis that people wanted to come to the UK had made a life choice and had set up certain expectations and it was right that they could continue their life in the way that they had wanted to.
“For those who come after March 2019 that will be different because they will be coming to a UK that they know will be outside the EU.
“This is a matter of negotiation for the implementation period.
“But I am clear that there is a difference between those people who came prior to us leaving the EU and those people who will come when they know that the UK’s no longer a member of the EU.”
Earlier this month, the pressure group Migration Watch estimated that retaining EU free movement rules for a two-year transition period would give nearly a million more EU citizens the right to apply for “settled status” in the UK.
Mrs May rejected suggestions of turning Britain into a rule-taking ‘vassal state’
On her flight to China, the Prime Minister went on to reject suggestions from Tory Euro-sceptics that the plan for a transition will turn Britain into a rule-taking “vassal state”, effectively postponing Brexit.
She said: “On the 19th of March 2019 we will leave the European Union.
“As I set out in my Lancaster House speech a year ago now, we want to ensure the departure is smooth, we want to ensure that business can continue and there is no cliff edge for business. That’s why an implementation period is important.
“That’s why business welcomes an implementation period being agreed because it gives them certainty of how they can continue to operate at that point at which we leave.
“In order to do that, we will be negotiating to operate on very much the same basis that we’re operating on now. But it’s a period of practical implementation for people to make the changes necessary to adjust to what the future relationship is going to be.”
She also denied claims that the Government is secretly plotting to lengthen the transition period to three or more years.
“On the length of the implementation period, people were saying, ‘oh we’re secretly negotiating for three years.’ No. We’re not,” the Prime Minister said.
Mrs May insisted economic data since the EU referendum had disproved dire warnings about the potential impact from opponents of Brexit.
“At the time of the referendum I voted Remain, I also said the sky wasn’t going to fall in if we left the EU,” he said.
“As people now see from the economic figures we’ve seen that has indeed proved to be the case.
“I believe that outside the EU we can not only project that Global Britain but I believe we can see a better future for our economy.”
The EU is demanding British borders to stay open to European migrants until at least 2021
She refused to confirm expectations that she will make a major speech about the Brexit negotiations in the coming weeks.
Some Westminster insiders have speculated that the Prime Minister could follow up her keynote speeches on European policy delivered at London’s Lancaster House and in Florence last year.
She said: “There’s always a lot of speculation about these things.
“I said just over a year ago now that as and when I could clarify aspects of our negotiations I would do so.
“I did that in Lancaster House, I did the Florence speech, as I’ve just said there’s another area where I will be doing that next month in Munich on our security relationship for the future and as Cabinet Brexit strategy committee is meeting regularly to discuss these various building blocks that go towards making that end state.
“But as and when we have more to say and to clarify then I will do so, as I have.”