Despite the accusations of having “no clear plan” for Brexit negotiations I believe there is in fact one and it’s crystal clear, albeit conceived in cloud-cuckoo land. I reckon that May, Davies and Johnson will demand that the UK remain in the single market while doing away with freedom of movement.

This is what they have implied time and again, and have not changed their tune despite the response from EU leaders. Presumably they are hoping that by sticking to this position throughout the 2 years of negotiations – the EU will eventually cave in and give it to them – as they have on many occasions in the past.

However, I can see no reason for the EU to cave in this time. The main bargaining chip in the past has been the threat of the UK’s withdrawal from the EU (for all our exceptions and opt-outs we’ve had as full half-hearted members of the EU club), but that threat can no longer be relied upon to get the EU’s negotiators to back down – which means the UK has to come up with another threat – one which has already been alluded to by Liam Fox.

That threat is a draconian clamp-down on EU citizens residing in the UK: limiting residency rights, cutting ties with the Court of Human Rights, requiring visas to work, clamping down on property ownership etc… This will scare the EU – as it contravenes most of the principles upon which the institution is founded – and may force them to concede some limiting of immigration.

There are three possible outcomes from this negotiating position:

  1. The UK govt’s threat forces an EU climb down and they essentially get what they want: single market access with some control of EU-based immigration.
  2. The EU play it straight and do not concede the freedom of movement. The net result is the UK carries out its threat and begins introducing laws to restrict EU citizens from living and working in the UK – unless they’re rich. (The EU are unlikely to impose similar restrictions on UK citizens in the EU in retaliation – however individual countries may take exception.) All the while the UK is barred from the single market and must trade under WTO rules until a new free trade deal is signed.
  3. The EU play it straight and do not concede the freedom of movement.The UK back down on their threat to curb EU citizens rights. The UK continues to be a member of the single market and freedom of movement remains.

I think outcome 3 is most likely should the UK economy take a significant downturn during the negotiation period. Everyone will breathe a huge sign of relief and things will continue as before – except the UK will have no say in future trading agreements… and therefore may decide to rejoin the EU and possibly the Eurozone somewhere down the line.

Outcome 2 is the worst possible outcome for expats, be they in the UK or the EU, as it will make living/working abroad subject to increased difficulty. However, this is not something that couldn’t be resolved by a streamline naturalisation process for UK and EU citizens across the current 28 members.

Outcome 1 would result in the quick break-up of the EU – as it would give a non-member a privileged position that other right-leaning states would also want.

By now it should be clear why this negotiating position has not been spelled out by the Prime Minister. She will indeed be asking for her cake and to eat it.