Britain may not get an Australian-style points based immigration system when it exits the European Union (EU), despite the policy being a key plank of the Leave campaign during the recent referendum on British membership of the EU.
There is also speculation over whether the unpopular free movement of people between Britain and the EU will cease, following indications that the government is planning merely to ask European leaders for changes to the system.
Immigration minister James Brokenshire MP, a close confidante of Britain’s new prime minister Theresa May and a man hotly tipped to take her place as Home Secretary, has told fellow MPs that work has started within the Home Office on a new immigration system following Britain’s historic vote to leave the EU.
But despite much talk of an Australian-style points based immigration system during the campaign, which would see migrants granted visas on merit, Mr. Brokenshire refused to confirm that the model will be used as a basis for Britain’s new system, the Guardian has reported.
“The Home Office work is to look at the various different options,” he said. “It is not necessarily that the points-based system is the right way to do it. There are other arrangements that could be considered as well.”
The statement will be seen by some as an indication that Mrs. May does not intend to use the Leave campaign’s policy points as a basis for the Brexit negotiations which must now take place.
Such speculation was further fuelled by Mrs. May refusing to confirm that free movement would be stopped when questioned at the launch of her leadership campaign on Monday morning.
“In relation to the single market and the negotiations: we need to get the best deal.
“But I am very clear that the Brexit vote was also a message that we need to bring control into free movement. Free movement cannot continue as it has done up till now,” she told reporters in Birmingham.
Questioned by MPs on the same subject, Mr. Brokenshire has repeated the line, saying only: “The prime minister has said that free movement cannot continue it its present form.”
Failure to deliver an end to the free movement of people would widely be seen as a failure to deliver a proper exit from the EU, as the policy is both a central pillar of the European project and the policy most focussed upon by Leave campaigners during the referendum debate.
The Freedom Association last night released a statement announcing that they would not be winding up their long-standing Better Off Out campaign, which has made the case for Brexit for many years, thanks to concerns that Mrs. May will not deliver a bona fide Brexit.
“Just because the British people agreed with us that the UK is better off out of the EU, there is still work to be done to ensure that our country gets the best deal in Brexit negotiations. Brexit should mean Brexit and we will be watching carefully, ready to take action in order to help make sure Mrs. May keeps her promises,” the statement read.
But Mrs. May will have to walk a fine line on the matter, as European leaders, and in particular the German Chancellor Angela Merkel, are insisting that there can be no question of the UK taking part in the Union’s single market without retaining the free movement of people.
“Whoever would like to have free access to the European internal market will also have to accept all basic freedoms in return, including the free movement of people,” Ms. Merkel said.