Exclusive: Fresh Cabinet split surfaces over post-Brexit immigration system

 
Catherine Neilan
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Passport control at Gatwick Airport
The government is officially awaiting the Migration Advisory Committee's report in September before taking a stance (Source: Getty)

New battle lines have been drawn within Theresa May’s Cabinet over Britain's post-Brexit immigration system, stoking divisions even further and presenting the Prime Minister with yet another headache.

Home secretary Sajid Javid is understood to have dropped one of two models being considered under his predecessor, which would have favoured EU citizens by effectively granting them an automatic visa.

City A.M. understands that he is pushing for a points-based system, akin to the one used in Australia, which would put EU workers on the same level as those from other parts of the world.

However, the proposal – which is favoured by Brexiters and had been pencilled into the upcoming Brexit white paper – has been challenged by chancellor Philip Hammond and business secretary Greg Clark, according to two sources.

It is thought the pair object to Javid’s plans because of the immediate impact it would have on businesses used to accessing EU talent without barrier as a result of freedom of movement, which will end when the UK leaves the bloc.

One source said: “It was supposed to come before Cabinet three weeks ago so it could be included [in the white paper], but Hammond and Clark don’t like it, so that’s that.”

The government has some time before having to commit a position on immigration, as officials await the Migration Advisory Committee (MAC)'s report in September before bringing forward an Immigration Bill to deal with the new regime.

However the Brexit white paper is expected to be published on 9 July, giving little wiggle room for dissent on the other key issues to be thrashed out at the Chequers summit this Friday.

May is widely expected to propose a third way on the future customs union, which is expected to draw from the original “max fac” option, which favours using new technology to process customs at the Northern Ireland border.

On the Single Market, it is thought the government will present a form of wording that critics are already describing as another fudge as May attempts to win over her warring team with what has been dubbed "the softest of hard Brexits".

While the Prime Minister is still officially committing to leaving both the single market and customs union, and the jurisdiction of the European Court of Justice, City A.M. understands the white paper will propose the UK retains “substantially similar” regulations on goods.

One source said: “This could be viewed by Brexiters as meaning the same goals and outcomes – high standards, we all want that, but it could be [understood] by Remainers as referring to high alignment, and it could be read by the EU as accepting what we give you.

“It’s a fudge that will have to be clarified when the EU says ‘alright, put it into a legal document’, but in terms of having a white paper published [next] week... it will work. It’s sufficiently ambiguous to let her kick the can down the road – again.”

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