Brexit Cabinet Split: Fox and Johnson Deny Consensus Over EU Free Movement After 2019

Britain's Foreign Secretary Boris Johnson (L) and Britain's International Trade Secretary Liam Fox leave after a Cabinet meeting at 10 Downing Street in central London on June 27, 2017. / AFP PHOTO / Daniel LEAL-OLIVAS (Photo credit should read DANIEL LEAL-OLIVAS/AFP/Getty Images)
DANIEL LEAL-OLIVAS/AFP/Getty

The Foreign and International Trade Secretaries have denied claims there is a cabinet ‘consensus’ to maintain ‘similar’ levels of migration from the European Union (EU) during a two-year ‘transition’ period after Brexit.

The claims appear to open a rift between senior Tories who backed and opposed Brexit, with the latter in favor of maintaining EU migration for years after the two-year Article 50 divorce period.

Last week, Home Secretary Amber Rudd unveiled plans for the existing immigration regime to remain largely unchanged, supported by Chancellor Phillip Hammond.

Free movement would official end, they insisted, as EU migrants would have to register. However, government sources conceded the rules governing the transitional period “may look like a similar arrangement” to current rules.

The Chancellor claimed the Cabinet had agreed it should run until June 2022.

However, Liam Fox, the pro-Brexit International Trade Secretary, denied there was an agreement in an interview with The Sunday Times:

“If there have been discussions on that, I have not been party to them. I have not been involved in any discussion on that, nor have I signified my agreement to anything like that.”

In a comment aimed at Mr. Hammond, he said that continuing to allow “unregulated” free movement of EU migrants “would seem to me not to keep faith with that decision”.

He added: “We made it clear that control of our own borders was one of the elements we wanted in the referendum, and unregulated free movement would seem to me not to keep faith with that decision.”

Foreign Secretary Boris Johnson has also yet to give his public support to Mr. Hammond’s plans for a three-year transition period after Brexit.

During a trip to Australia last week, he said he was unaware Ms. Rudd had announced a major report about the costs and benefits of EU migration.

In an indirect attack against the senior anti-Brexit Tories, David Jones, a former Brexit minister, told the Telegraph: “They [Mr Johnson and Dr Fox] are clearly being kept out of the loop.

“We have senior ministers now putting forward in public what appears to be a negotiating position that should be done behind closed doors.

“It shouldn’t be flagged up in advance. It is at the very least disrespectful, at the very worst it looks as if someone is trying to bounce the Government into a position that not all senior members of the Government are happy with.”

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