24 Oct 2016, 16 mins ago

Theresa May laid out her plans for Britain’s withdrawal from the European Union at the Conservative Party Conference. The speech was scant on detail but one of the central themes was that Britain, post-Brexit, would be in a position to control immigration.

The PM explicitly rejected the ‘Norway model’, which involves joining the European Economic Area and giving free movement rights to other citizens of the EEA. She also rejected the Swiss model. Switzerland has access to the European Single Market through an arrangement with the EU, and it is required to accept free movement of EEA citizens as part of the deal. The Swiss have been trying to curb free movement whilst maintaining single market access for some time with little success. After bruising negotiations with the EU they appear to be no closer to achieving this.

It is still not clear what the new ‘British model’ is going to look like. There were vague promises about free trade and trade partnerships with European neighbours but, as the Swiss negotiations have demonstrated, the EU are standing firm on free movement being a requirement of free market access. The speech talked of controlling immigration but the emphasis was on returning powers to Britain, this was mentioned twice with barely a breath in between. What was not explained was exactly what Britain is planning to do with these newfound powers. The position of existing worker rights would be guaranteed according to the PM but she did not state what would happen to EU Citizens who have been exercising treaty rights in other ways (self-employed persons and students, for example). It was not clear what the regime for new arrivals from the EU would be post-Brexit.

Theresa May’s speech hit the notes intended to please a Conservative conference and pro-Brexit audience but after more than 6 months of referendum campaigning and 100 days of government work on the issue, the UK’s post-Brexit immigration policy remains unclear.