The UK could allow some EU migrants preferable treatment as part of any future trade deal, under Brexit proposals published today.
Ministers insist the EU’s system of free movement will end, but their plans set out in a white paper show Britain would make a “sovereign choice” to remove restrictions for Europeans coming in where it is in the UK’s economic interest.
The immigration proposals to be fleshed out in legislation later in the year, also include visa free travel for temporary business activity and tourism and “mobility” for students and young people.
Earlier this year, Brussels sources revealed to The Independent that the UK was talking about offering arrangements “very similar” to current free movement rules after Brexit.
The plans published today also set out more detail than ever before about the economic relationship, including the UK’s move to effectively maintain the EU’s regulation on goods and adopt a complex customs arrangement.
New Brexit secretary Dominic Raab was to sell the proposals in the house of commons where he was set to be given a hard time by Brexiteers who feel Ms May has made too many compromises to secure a deal with the EU.
Speaking earlier in the day, Mr Raab said the UK would be ending free movement, but that visas would be involved in the bargaining for future trade deals.
The Independent understands that while EU citizens could be given preferable treatment as part of trading arrangements, so too could US, Indian or Chinese citizens as part of a future deal.
Mr Raab told BBC Radio 4’s Today programme: “We are going to take back control of our immigration policy”, but he added that there will be a “negotiation” about details when the immigration bill is set out.
Given the depth of relationship and close ties between the UK and the EU, the UK will make a sovereign choice in defined number of areas to seek reciprocal mobility arrangements with the EU
UK white paper on future relations with the EU
The white paper sets out how “given the depth of relationship and close ties between the UK and the EU, the UK will make a sovereign choice in defined number of areas to seek reciprocal mobility arrangements with the EU.”
The “mobility” for students and young people would aim to allow them to “continue to benefit from world leading universities”.
The white paper also tries to set up frictionless trade with the EU by signing the UK up to single market regulations for goods and agricultural products, and adopting a new, untested customs system.
Officials say this would remove the need for regulatory and customs checks at the border and at ports – crucial for businesses with complex pan-European supply chains like car manufacturers.
But the EU has already, repeatedly, said such frictionless trade can only come about if the UK signs up both to the single market and customs union – which Britain is adamant that they are not doing.
British officials say the UK position has “evolved” and that they now hope the EU position will evolve in turn – meeting in the middle.
Other aspects of the white paper include the UK signing up to a “level playing field” – effectively binding it to state aid and competition policy.
However, the UK will not stay aligned to single market regulations. This is crucial because services make up the bulk of the British economy.
Mr Raab went on: “For those that are either criticising or carping or whatever else, they need to come back with credible alternatives”
Mr Raab said it was “true” that the UK would no longer be part of setting the directives in the common rulebook it would agree to under the proposals.
But he said Britain would “have a chance to influence it” and there would be a parliamentary lock on new measures.
“It’s not right to say we will be a rule-taker in the sense that’s normally used,” he added.