September 09, 2016
The growing likelihood of a hard Brexit
There is now a lot more realism on Brexit among British commentators. Since the leaders of both the Tory and the Labour Party want Brexit to happen, there are is no more debate about Bregret and the like. The debate is now purely about what type of Brexit. Peter Foster of the Daily Telegraph has a good comment this morning, in which he explains why political and technical constraints now combine to favour a hard Brexit. Theresa May's pledged for some control over immigration leaves three possibilities.
The first one would be to restrict immigration only to EU citizens with a firm job offer. But this is not going to make a dent in the immigration statistics. This is the kind of solution which he writes could trick Brexiteers into believing that something had changed, when in fact it has not. The scam would be revealed with the publication of the first immigration statistics. Foster says this can be ruled out. It would make a mockery of May's claim to control immigration.
The second option is an emergency brake, similar to what Norway has. But the Europeans are very unlikely to agree such a deal. David Cameron asked for this in February and failed. Why should they agree to it now? There would have to be dramatic change in the politics of the EU.
The third option is work permits, based on education and salary levels. This would bring genuine control over immigration. But the EU would reciprocate, and this means a hard Brexit. This is the scenario with no single passport for the City of London, no membership of the single market, and a free trade agreement down the road.
George Eaton also notes that May has missed several opportunities to tone down her request for immigration control, and instead has doubled down. He quotes a spokeswoman as saying that a sustainable level of immigration means tens of thousands of net immigrants each year, not over 100,000. That's a fairly clear target. The view from No. 10 is that there is no democratic justification for maintaining free movement in its present form. The point Eaton and Foster disagree on is the firm-job-offer system. Eaton notes that a quarter of immigration is by people without a firm job offer. That was 63,000 people last year. But that, too, would not be acceptable to the EU.
And finally, we noted that Guy Verhofstadt has been appointed the European Parliament's Brexit supremo.