Free movement now appears to be at the heart of Brexit negotiations

Free movement now appears to be at the heart of Brexit negotiations


Don Brind on what the assurances to Nissan might mean

The new Select committee on Exiting the European Union, who will hold their first meeting on Wednesday, will have the opportunity to shape the debate on what Brexit actual means.

The 21-strong committee is like to have a majority of members who backed Remain. Eight of the ten Tories, including Michael Gove, were Leavers but all five of the Labour members, including the chair Hilary Benn, were Remainers. Of the six smaller parties members only the Democratic Unionist Party representative is likely to join the Tory Leavers.

The witnesses they call and the evidence they commission will be important in creating the basis for an informed debate on how Brexit negotiations should be conducted and what the priorities should be.

There will be plenty of fun to be had when the committee grill the distinctly unimpressive trio of Brexit Ministers David Davis, Liam Fox and Boris Johnson.

One of the most significant areas the committee can be expected to explore is what scope exists for a deal on free movement of labour. In a must-read piece on the issue the editor of Labour Uncut Atul Hatwal  looks at the deal to keep Nissan manufacturing in Sunderland from the perspective of the EU’s chief Brexit negotiator Michel Barnier. He declares

  “There is absolutely zero chance that Barnier would give Britain what it prizes the most – the automotive single market– “without extracting a concession on the issue that exercises Central and Eastern European states the most: migration. The firmness of Britain’s commitments to Nissan mean that the British government knows that it has to accept a compromise on this issue.”

Hatwal outlines two possible approaches to allow continued free movement. One is sectoral, where specific arrangement allow key industries to keep current migration arrangements. The other is geographic, where devolved administrations would be able to opt-in to free movement with some associated single market advantages for these regions. “There would be a democratic mandate and local control over decision-making. Regions that were hostile to migration could simply not opt-in to any free movement scheme.”

Hatwal is clear that there is a bureaucratic cost to the twin approaches. His article is worth reading in its entirety.

On the same theme, Sunder Katwala director of the British Future think-tank strikes an optimistic note in an article for the FT.

He takes heart from the polling evidence that “there is no public support for an indiscriminate anti-immigration crackdown. Instead, three-quarters of people — including eight out of ten Leave and Ukip supporters — see Brexit as the opportunity to get the balance right, to have more choice and control over who comes to Britain while still keeping the immigration that is good for our economy and society. Britons also want to maintain our tradition of offering sanctuary to refugees.”

There is he concludes “a remarkable opportunity for a pragmatic deal on this most polarised of public policy issues. Seizing it would help to rebuild public confidence in Britain as a society where immigration and integration is a positive thing.”

Don Brind

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