Sunday 1 July 2018 2:42 pm

Freedom of movement not on table at divided Cabinet's crunch Brexit meeting says Brokenshire

Extending freedom of movement is not up for negotiation ahead of a crunch meeting of a divided Cabinet to thrash out its Brexit position, housing minister James Brokenshire said today.

Freedom of movement between EU nations is a key point of tension within government, with official policy still that total annual immigration will be reduced to the tens of thousands. However, home secretary Sajid Javid has previously hinted that the immigration target may be up for review.

“Freedom of movement is ending,” Brokenshire said, speaking to the BBC. “Some sense that freedom of movement will continue into the future is not correct.”

Ending freedom of movement would rule out any possibility of staying within the EU’s Single Market, unless a significant concession in negotiations is forthcoming.

Pressure on the government from businesses has reached fever pitch in recent weeks, with time running out before the UK leaves the EU in March 2019. Firms are still anxious that the UK could leave the EU without a deal, in a move which the vast majority of business groups believe would be damaging to business.

Brokenshire insisted that the “no deal” scenario is not the government’s aim, although NHS England boss Simon Stevens, also speaking to the BBC, noted that the health service is now preparing for a failure to reach an agreement.

Brokenshire said: “Our focus, our attention, all of that detail and effort must be about getting a deal.

“We don’t want to see no deal, which is why Friday matters in terms of getting us into those negotiations.”

The government has not yet published a white paper setting out its desire for the long-term trade relationship with the EU, with more than two years after the vote to leave the bloc, and with only six weeks of negotiation time remaining. The white paper will be published after the meeting.

Brokenshire acknowledged the divisions at the top of the government, and said there is “real pressure” to move negotiations forward.

“There’s no doubt there are strong views on either side,” he said, but added that he is “confident” that an agreement within the government will be reached. That position will then be taken to the EU in negotiations.