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Brexit plan will stop EU migrants ‘jumping the queue’

Theresa May speaking at the CBI conference

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Theresa May is renewing her efforts to sell her draft Brexit withdrawal agreement – saying it will stop EU migrants “jumping the queue”.

She said migration would become skills-based, with Europeans no longer prioritised over “engineers from Sydney or software developers from Delhi”.

The PM also insisted to business leaders at the CBI that her withdrawal deal has been “agreed in full”.

It comes as some Tory MPs continue to press for late changes to the deal.

Ministers from the remaining 27 EU countries have met in Brussels ahead of the deal being finalised on Sunday.

They are working on the political declaration setting out their future relationship with the UK.

There has been widespread criticism of the draft 585-page withdrawal agreement – and a short paper setting out what the UK and EU’s future relationship could look like – which is set to be signed off at a summit this weekend.

Two of the prime minister’s cabinet ministers resigned over the proposed deal, while others are believed to be trying to change its wording.

Speculation continues over whether the number of Tory MPs submitting letters of no-confidence in Mrs May will reach the 48 required to trigger a confidence vote on her leadership of the Conservative Party.

What’s the PM’s next move?

Mrs May and Labour leader Jeremy Corbyn are both addressing the business lobby group the CBI at its annual conference in London.

She told them that her plan would provide a fair immigration system that would help young people in the UK get jobs and training.

“It will no longer be the case that EU nationals, regardless of the skills or experience they have to offer, can jump the queue ahead of engineers from Sydney or software developers from Delhi.

“Instead of a system based on where a person is from, we will have one that is built around the talents and skills a person has to offer.”

She also said she was not willing to reopen discussions with Brussels over the withdrawal agreement, saying “the core elements of that deal are already in place”.

She said that she expected to hammer out a framework for a future trade relationship in Brussels during “an intense week of negotiations ahead”, before signing off the deal at a summit on Sunday.

“My job is to get the best deal,” she said. “Parliament must then examine it and do what’s in the national interest.”

She said the final stage of negotiations “was always going to be the toughest, but we have a deal”.

“Let no one be in any doubt I am determined to deliver it,” she said.

CBI president John Allan is calling for MPs to back Mrs May’s deal – despite it not being “perfect” – and has warned of the consequences for businesses and the economy if the UK were to simply crash out of the EU.

Media captionBBC correspondents explain 585 pages faster than you could print them… on a BBC photocopier

Why are people unhappy with the deal?

The draft document sets out the terms of the UK’s departure, including how much money will be paid to the EU, details of the transition period, and citizens’ rights.

The transition period – currently due to last until 31 December 2020 – will mean the UK is officially out of the EU, but still abiding by most of its rules. During this time, the two sides hope to negotiate a permanent trade deal.

The UK and the EU want to avoid a hard Northern Ireland border whatever happens, so they agreed to a “backstop” – described as an insurance policy by Mrs May – aimed at achieving this if the sides cannot agree a trade deal that avoids a physically visible border.

The backstop would mean Northern Ireland would stay more closely aligned to some EU rules, which critics say is unacceptable. And the whole of the UK would be in a single custom territory – effectively keeping the whole of the UK in the EU customs union.

The critics say that during the transition period, the UK will still abide by most of the EU’s rules but have no power over setting them – and there is no system for the UK being able to leave any backstop deal without the EU’s agreement.

Could the transition period be extended?

Business Secretary Greg Clark said it might make sense to extend the transition period – which aims to smooth the path from Brexit to the UK and EU’s future permanent relationship.

When asked whether it would be until the end of 2022, Mr Clark told BBC Radio 4’s Today programme: “It would be at our request and that would be a maximum period.”

He said it could be extended for a matter of “weeks or months”, and added: “If we were six weeks away from concluding a future economic partnership and agreeing that, then it may make sense to extend the transition period.”

Asked about extending the transition period, Mrs May told the CBI conference that it was “important” to be out of the implementation period before the next general election – which is due in June 2022.

What is the latest Tory reaction?

Environment Secretary Michael Gove, one of the five cabinet ministers who were believed to be trying to change the wording of the deal, said on Monday that the prime minister “has my full support” and she is doing a “very good job”.

“I hope people will get behind her as she endeavours to get the very, very best deal for Britain,” he said.

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But former Foreign Secretary Boris Johnson used his column in Monday’s Daily Telegraph to renew his criticism of the draft agreement, describing it as a “585-page fig-leaf [that] does nothing to cover the embarrassment of our total defeat”.

Tory MP Anne Marie Morris, from the pro-Brexit ERG faction, told the BBC that she knows of 48 MPs who wish to submit letters of no-confidence in Mrs May, but “many of them are holding back their letters, waiting for that meaningful vote” on the deal.

But former Tory chief whip Andrew Mitchell warned against trying to replace Mrs May. He told the Times: “It will end up making us look like we’re hunting the prime minister down as happened with Margaret Thatcher. It will do the party untold damage in the eyes of the public.”

And former Tory leader Lord Howard told BBC Radio 4’s Today programme that a vote of confidence would be a distraction.

He said MPs “should be concentrating on the document and its implications”.

What’s the reaction from the EU?

Michel Barnier, the EU’s chief Brexit negotiator, called on all parties to “remain calm” and focus on the future agreement.

Speaking at a press conference in Brussels after meeting with the 27 other EU member states, he said: “We are at a decisive moment in this process. No-one should lose sight of the progress that has been achieved in Brussels and London.”

He said the withdrawal deal was “fair and balanced” and both sides “want to avoid using the backstop”.

He said an extension of the transition period could not be indefinite, “it has to be a fixed period of time”.


By Adam Fleming, BBC Brussels reporter

Michel Barnier has gone from finger-wagger extraordinaire to salesman-in-chief.

His remarks about the Withdrawal Agreement could have been scripted by the British government to help sell the deal: it’s a fair compromise, the EU has moved towards the British position on the Irish backstop which, by the way, won’t even be needed because we are going to have a deep and special relationship.

His call for people to keep calm sounds like it was aimed at the Brexiteer backbenchers who are trying to torpedo the whole package but it may also have been a message to the EU members states not to rock the boat at this last stage, particularly Spain which is kicking up a fuss about how Brexit affects the status of Gibraltar.

Brexit plan will stop EU migrants ‘jumping the queue’}

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