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Theresa May: Lancaster House speech (17 Jan 2017) - highlights (Part 3)

Editorial Staff

We continue our look at Theresa May's speech setting out her position and plan for the UK to leave the EU.

"we will ensure we can control immigration to Britain from Europe.

We will continue to attract the brightest and the best to work or study in Britain – indeed openness to international talent must remain one of this country’s most distinctive assets – but that process must be managed properly so that our immigration system serves the national interest.

So we will get control of the number of people coming to Britain from the EU.

Because while controlled immigration can bring great benefits – filling skills shortages, delivering public services, making British businesses the world-beaters they often are – when the numbers get too high, public support for the system falters.

In the last decade or so, we have seen record levels of net migration in Britain, and that sheer volume has put pressure on public services, like schools, stretched our infrastructure, especially housing, and put a downward pressure on wages for working class people. As Home Secretary for six years, I know that you cannot control immigration overall when there is free movement to Britain from Europe.

Britain is an open and tolerant country. We will always want immigration, especially high-skilled immigration, we will always want immigration from Europe, and we will always welcome individual migrants as friends. But the message from the public before and during the referendum campaign was clear: Brexit must mean control of the number of people who come to Britain from Europe. And that is what we will deliver."

Comment: it is clear, then, that there will not be total freedom of movement for EU citizens after Brexit and that, it has to be said, was a very major part of the reason that Britons voted to leave: although in some quarters, it was argued that the reason had to do with so-called cheap labour from across the EU, that is a red herring for most people and May clearly says that controls will apply to the unskilled. But there is a problem: it is true that there are many unskilled immigrants, many of whom would not pass a test of competence in English. It is also true that there are many British people out of work. However, the government is in a trap: benefits in the UK are far less generous than they used to be and qualifying criteria are tougher. Also the termination of benefits is easier. But even so, there are many unskilled unemployed young people in the UK because they can afford to be. They are, ironically, of a very similar profile to many unskilled migrants. But the migrants will take on almost any work available while Britons think menial jobs are beneath their dignity. May's biggest problem in this area, then, will be to ensure a supply of labour, at an appropriate cost, in jobs that are currently filled by migrants. These are often low paid jobs as shop assistants and chambermaids, for example. The task is to bring Britons into those jobs to avoid hardship for businesses, particularly given the very high cost of running a business in the UK.

There is another issue that many opponents of border controls forget: it is not so long ago that Italy was a landing point for migrants, before the recent flood but definitely a precursor to it. At that point, Italy knew that many migrants did not want to remain in Italy, that Italy was, in migration terms, a transit country. To facilitate the easy passage of migrants, Italy issued, without question, what amounted to non-expiring entry visas. Italy stopped it; Germany then adopted something similar if migrants could, somehow, get there. Once in the EU under such a document, the UK cannot insist on an individual entry visa. Although it documents those crossing its borders, if they are in possession of legal papers, the UK cannot turn them away. This is an example of the open border policy that the UK population wishes to end.


Fairness demands that we deal with another issue as soon as possible too. We want to guarantee the rights of EU citizens who are already living in Britain, and the rights of British nationals in other member states, as early as we can.

I have told other EU leaders that we could give people the certainty they want straight away, and reach such a deal now.

Many of them favour such an agreement – one or two others do not – but I want everyone to know that it remains an important priority for Britain – and for many other member states – to resolve this challenge as soon as possible. Because it is the right and fair thing to do.

Comment: this is a two-way street. There are many British retirees (in the broad sense) living and perhaps working in other EU states. They do not require a residence permit and they do not require a work permit. It is perhaps ironic that this is the flip side of the unskilled labour argument.

Equally, there are many Europeans who have retired to the UK (although probably not as many). It is desirable that those should be protected for if they are pushed into forced sale of assets so that they can be repatriated, they will undoubtedly suffer hardship. May is right: this is a vital and urgent piece of the jigsaw and it can and should be dealt with in isolation and not as a part of a broader exit package.


"As we translate the body of European law into our domestic regulations, we will ensure that workers rights are fully protected and maintained.

Indeed, under my leadership, not only will the Government protect the rights of workers’ set out in European legislation, we will build on them. Because under this Conservative Government, we will make sure legal protection for workers keeps pace with the changing labour market – and that the voices of workers are heard by the boards of publicly-listed companies for the first time."

Comment: this will please the left and startle moderates. In particular the idea of compelling companies to have worker's representatives on the Board will be welcomed by some and detested by others. For sure, there are fans of the German approach and those that say it has been a terrible failure. Readers' comments on this aspect are particularly welcome.


"as a priority, we will pursue a bold and ambitious Free Trade Agreement with the European Union.

This agreement should allow for the freest possible trade in goods and services between Britain and the EU’s member states. It should give British companies the maximum freedom to trade with and operate within European markets – and let European businesses do the same in Britain.

But I want to be clear. What I am proposing cannot mean membership of the EU’s Single Market.

European leaders have said many times that membership means accepting the “four freedoms” of goods, capital, services and people. And being out of the EU but a member of the Single Market would mean complying with the EU’s rules and regulations that implement those freedoms, without having a vote on what those rules and regulations are. It would mean accepting a role for the European Court of Justice that would see it still having direct legal authority in our country.

It would to all intents and purposes mean not leaving the EU at all.

And that is why both sides in the referendum campaign made it clear that a vote to leave the EU would be a vote to leave the Single Market.

So we do not seek membership of the Single Market. Instead we seek the greatest possible access to it through a new, comprehensive, bold and ambitious Free Trade Agreement."

Comment: this is at the heart of the "hard exit" principle: May is saying that there are no circumstances in which parts of the current EU scheme that benefit both the UK and the EU can be salvaged.

But wait: she does muddy the waters:

"That Agreement may take in elements of current Single Market arrangements in certain areas – on the export of cars and lorries for example, or the freedom to provide financial services across national borders – as it makes no sense to start again from scratch when Britain and the remaining Member States have adhered to the same rules for so many years.

But I respect the position taken by European leaders who have been clear about their position, just as I am clear about mine. So an important part of the new strategic partnership we seek with the EU will be the pursuit of the greatest possible access to the Single Market, on a fully reciprocal basis, through a comprehensive Free Trade Agreement."

Comment: so out means out but to contract back in for specific products and services. That seems complicated and messy. But then she makes one of the most important points of all:

"because we will no longer be members of the Single Market, we will not be required to contribute huge sums to the EU budget. There may be some specific European programmes in which we might want to participate. If so, and this will be for us to decide, it is reasonable that we should make an appropriate contribution. But the principle is clear: the days of Britain making vast contributions to the European Union every year will end."

Comment: This is welcome news: Europol, in particular, is a vital part of the region's security infrastructure. Also, the UK should remain part of the EU's arrest warrant and the associated extradition processes. European Quality Control (the CE mark) is vital. Indeed, across the world, albeit informally, recognise both the CE mark and relevant British Standards (insofar as they remain) as a means of short-cutting their own approvals processes. In developing countries where skills, corruption and cost are major issues, this makes good sense. Therefore, to take the UK out of that would harm British exports across the world.

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