Through careful language, Theresa May leaves her options open on Brexit

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I’ve mentioned before that Theresa May is, as one might expect, using very careful language on post-Brexit options.

In her leadership launch statement, she said:

…as we conduct our negotiations, it must be a priority to allow British companies to trade with the single market in goods and services – but also to regain more control of the numbers of people who come here from Europe.

“Regain more control of the numbers” doesn’t necessarily mean “stop free movement”. There’s wiggle room between those two points.

In her first PMQs yesterday, there was an interesting exchange with Sir Edward Leigh:

Sir Edward Leigh (Gainsborough) (Con)
Q4. I agree with the Prime Minister. [Hon. Members: “Hear, hear!”] We are leaving the EU and we are going to make a success of it, so will she make my day special by saying that she is prepared to reject staying in the single regulated market and to offer instead to our friends in Europe a free trade deal that is very much in their interests? Let us take back control. [905972]
Hon. Members
Hear, hear!
The Prime Minister
I am tempted to say that I probably ought to sit down and enjoy that for the rest of the day. My hon. Friend has made my day, and I hope that I can make his day by wishing him a very happy birthday. I assure him that as we look at the result of the referendum, I am very clear that Brexit does mean Brexit, and as he says, we will make a success of it. In negotiating the deal, we need to ensure that we listen to what people have said about the need for controls on free movement, and that we also negotiate the right and best deal for trade in goods and services for the British people.

“Listen to what people have said about the need for controls on free movement” isn’t the same as ending free movement or leaving the single market/European Economic Area.

So, the Prime Minister is leaving the way open for some form of compromise which could involve being in the single market, or at least having access to the single market, while involving some “controls on free movement”. She didn’t confirm that she wants to “reject staying” in the single market, and go down the full free trade deal route, when asked to do so by Sir Edward.

As I have explained before, the European Economic Area agreement does include an “emergency brake” which could be described as a “control on free movement” and there would be a number of other options open to the UK to implement some “controls on free movement” within the EEA.


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