There is a plan

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.


  1. The UK can just leave the EU, join EFTA, and remain in the EEA but not be in the Customs Union (even in the customs union it can strike its own trade deals like Turkey) and ask for article 112 and seek the same deal as Lichtenstein on immigration. Also you must be aware that the ECJ has judged that the FOM of people is a qualified right that can in principle be restricted by primary legislation for reasons of security, social security and social policy, plus the fact that the European Council and Commission are on record as acknowledging that the UK has an issue with EU immigration that would justify the triggering of safeguard measures.

    • Good points Philip. I’ve found a site which discusses the legal aspects of the Lichtenstein situation.

      Here’s a few interesting quotes:

      • “Article 112:2 Such safeguard measures shall be restricted with regard to their scope and duration to what is strictly necessary in order to remedy the situation.”
      • “should the UK as an EEA member trigger this provision in order to impose quantitative limitations or restrictive rules regarding entry, residence and employment of EEA nationals in the UK, it could then be subject to what would be essentially retaliatory measures focusing for instance on UK banks’ passporting rights”
      • “the quota system agreed for Liechtenstein was explicitly justified on the basis of this country’s ‘specific geographic situation’ and a total number of employees which is almost equal to the number of residents, 52 % of whom commute from neighbouring countries, a situation in no way comparable to the UK’s”

      So while it is technically possible, the UK would still only be able to apply it as a temporary measure – and would cut off it’s nose despite it’s face as the EU would most likely impose sanctions. The UK could only argue the Lichtenstein case if EU immigration was proportionally similar – but that would require proving that 20 million or so EU migrants reside in the UK – which I doubt is possible.

      What you propose is a sensible solution – but I doubt that the hard-brexit bunch would accept ‘temporary’ immigration controls…?

  2. Well it looks like option 2 is the way we’re going. May et al finally took the hint that the single market was non-negotiable if freedom of movement was off the table, and now predictably has threatened to create a tax haven should the EU give her a bad deal. How nice.

    The question now is – what happens to us now, the people whom this decision affects the most? I think it’s safe to say that the 52 percent who voted for it and the UK media as a whole don’t really give a toss. Indeed they won’t until it starts to affect the pound in their pocket – and that won’t become clear for a good 10-15 years from now. By which time Scotland and Northern Ireland may have already left the UK as well as anyone with half an ounce of social justice.

    I feel sorry for the children of Britain and future generations who will be growing up in a society that puts money, power and personal gain over all else like never before. These, incidentally, were among the reasons I was happy to leave the UK – I just never believed that things would get this bad.

    What worries me most is that Theresa May has unashamedly put on the clothes of a neo-facist leader – and big business seems quite happy with this. What has she been promising behind closed doors I wonder? Nissan seem to know and MacDonalds have already guessed. Yes, the threat of creating a tax haven for big business outside the EU is not actually a threat – it is something already in process.

    Some said the referendum vote was a statement against the political elite? I don’t think so. All the evidence suggests that it was a vote for greed, xenophobia and dirty money.

Leave a Reply

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.