The Cabinet is ‘united’ in backing a transitional Brexit deal which would mean continued access to migrant labour, Michael Gove has said.
The prominent Brexiteer, said the Government would take a ‘pragmatic’ approach in response to suggestions Britain could maintain free movement for EU citizens during a transition period following the official separation from Brussels.
He said decisions on an ‘implementation period’ would be made ‘in the best interests of our economy’, while fellow Brexiteer Liam Fox said he was prepared to wait ‘another couple of years’ for a full separation from Brussels.
Their comments indicated a widening of Cabinet support for a transitional deal between the UK leaving the EU in March 2019 and a new trading arrangement being introduced.
But any such deal will outrage hardline Eurosceptics and could open up yet another rift in the Tory party.
A report in The Times said Prime Minister Theresa May is ready to offer free movement for two years under a plan drawn up by Chancellor Philip Hammond, while The Guardian quoted ‘a senior Cabinet source’ as saying that the period could last for three or even four years.
It is thought that Hammond believes he has won backing within the Cabinet for a transition to prevent disruption to business caused by a sudden ‘cliff-edge’ move to new arrangements on March 29 2019, when Brexit is due to happen.
Environment Secretary, Gove said: ‘I know not just from agriculture but from other industries how important it is we ensure we have access to the high quality labour on which the success of our economy depends and, as the Prime Minister has made clear, as we leave the European Union we will have an implementation period which will ensure we continue to have not just access to labour, but the economic stability and certainty business requests, and that is something around which the Government and the Cabinet are united.’
Some Brexit-backing Tory MPs expressed concerns about the possibility of free movement continuing beyond the date of separation from the EU.
Peter Bone told BBC Radio 4’s World At One: ‘There’s a complete difference between minor technical things that need to go on and major things like free movement.
‘Free movement has to end no later than March 31 2019, and I think most Conservative MPs would say that, the country would say that and, absolutely the most important thing, I think Mrs May would say that.’
UKIP’s interim leader Steve Crowther said: ‘Extending freedom of movement for two, three or four years produces no obvious benefit to anyone. It is an EU principle, so ending it in 2019 or 2023 makes no difference to them.
‘Business wants certainty, and that comes from sticking to the timetable, negotiating robustly and introducing clear border control policies that enable us to access the skills we need.
‘Since the election, Theresa May is badly holed and unseaworthy, and the Remainer Philip Hammond – who was on his way out of the door before June 8 – now sees an opportunity to fudge, delay and obfuscate until the end of the current parliament, to try and get the decision reversed.’