6 Sep 2017

Leaked Brexit paper: who’s in charge now?

The Guardian’s document is a draft of a White Paper that No. 10 had hoped would be published in final form about now, spelling out UK immigration policy post Brexit. The fact that we are seeing a leaked version and not the final published one tells you that the PM has not got wider Cabinet approval to publish it. The signs are, I hear, we are still some way from such a document being published.

Before the snap election, the PM’s joint chief of staff, Nick Timothy, proclaimed to Whitehall that post-Brexit UK immigration policy was something that the government could sort out completely on its own. It had nothing to do with EU negotiations, was his line, not a matter for the EU at all, none of their business. The No. 10 operation had more than a glint of steel about it in those days and many in Whitehall seem to have known that Home Office officials working on immigration were working directly into No. 10. Amber Rudd, the Home Secretary, would see their papers but the officials were often working into and being commissioned and shaped by No. 10, where their old boss had moved to.

Post the election and the weakening of the Prime Minister, that approach has been challenged, the personnel at No. 10 have changed and so has the outline of a transition agreement with the EU. This draft of immigration policy dates from the beginning of August. Some in Whitehall feel the Home Office team has been a little slow to catch up with the shifts in where power now lies. In the fluid state of post-election politics, maybe you could forgive them that.

The immediate area of interest in Whitehall is: “what is Theresa May willing to sign up to for the Transition period – 2019-2021/2?” Is she willing to go along with the 26th June Home Office paper’s recommendation (which would look and feel a lot like “freedom of movement” even if it was relabelled for the internal political market)? That is actually cited at the beginning of the Guardian’s leaked document on p5 (item 3):

“…during the implementation period … there will be relatively few changes to the current rules … (beyond) a requirement to register with the Home Office to obtain permission to reside ….”

That approach, is pretty close to rules that apply already in Germany  and it would be pretty difficult for the EU to object to it. It doesn’t give Theresa May a lot of cover though if she is anxious about selling it as an end to freedom of movement that starts on the day the UK leaves in March 2019.

Deeper into the Guardian’s leaked document (pp25-6) you find more controls on EU migration in the Transition period which the EU 27 would object to. It’s not clear whether these have been diluted in later version of the Immigration White Paper but it looks like some Cabinet members, including Amber Rudd and Philip Hammond, don’t feel happy signing off on the White Paper until those restrictions have been diluted and probably quite a few other changes made too in the post-Transition arrangements too.

The Nick Timothy’s “none of their business” approach has been challenged by some senior ministers who believe that the immigration posture of the UK post-Brexit will influence the eventual deal the EU cuts with the UK. They feel it might need to be softer anyway for self-serving economic reasons and sense that, post the election, they have the political weight to push for that.



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