“European Union needs to ‘discuss further’ the rules around freedom of movement.”
In comments seen as a significant shift, the German Chancellor suggested that the European Union needs to “discuss further” the rules around freedom of movement.
It suggests for the first time that Britain may be able to gain full control of its borders while still retaining access to the single market, something that EU leaders including Jean-Claude Juncker have previously said would be impossible.
Until now, Mrs Merkel has always insisted that there would never be any movement on the issue of freedom of movement, which gives EU citizens the right to live and work in any country on the continent.
Theresa May has pledged that freedom of movement is her “red line” during Brexit negotiations and that she will insist on full control of the country’s borders.
Mrs Merkel’s comments came just hours after Boris Johnson, the Foreign Secretary, said it is “nonsense” to suggest that freedom of movement is one of the “fundamental freedoms” of the EU.
Boris rubbishes talk of Cabinet split over Brexit Play! 00:19
CREDIT: AFP/GETTY IMAGES
Brexit supporting MPs last night said Mrs Merkel’s comments signal “the beginning of a new realism in the EU” and Whitehall sources told the Telegraph it is “the first crack in the armour”.
In other developments:
- A Supreme Court judge suggested that Mrs May could be forced to unpick every piece of EU legislation before Brexit is triggered, prompting questions over her impartiality.
- Google announced plans to open a new headquarters in Britain and create more than 3,000 jobs in news welcomed as a “big vote of confidence” in the UK ahead of Brexit.
- Nigel Farage, the Ukip leader, suggested he is open to rejoining the Conservative Party in a bid to hold the party to account over Brexit.
Speaking in Berlin, Mrs Merkel said that making an “exception” for Britain would “endanger” the principles of the EU.
“Were we to make an exception for the free movement of people with Britain, this would mean we would endanger principles of the whole internal market in the European Union, because everyone else will then want these exceptions,” she said.
However, on the finer detail of defining the free movement of people, she added: “I personally am of the view that we will have to discuss further with the [European] Commission when this freedom of movement applies from.”
“The question of when lifelong guarantees come into effect according to the social standard of the host country must certainly be taken into consideration,” Mrs Merkel said.
Her comments indicate that Mrs Merkel is open to allowing countries like Britain to curb migration, something she was steadfastly opposed to in the build-up to the EU referendum in June.
Offering “fair” negotiations to the UK, Merkel added: “First, however, Britain must explain in what manner it would like this exit.”
Mrs May is due to meet Mrs Merkel in Berlin on Friday at a meeting that will be attended by Barack Obama, the outgoing American President.
Merkel: I wish could go back in time on migration Play!01:43
In an interview with a Czech newspaper on Tuesday, Mr Johnson described as “b——s” the repeated claims by EU politicians that freedom of movement is a central tenet of the bloc’s existence.
He said: “Everybody now has it in their head that every human being has some fundamental God-given right to move wherever they want. It’s not true. That was never the case. That was never a founding principle of the EU. Total myth.”
Mr Johnson also became the first minister to confirm that it is likely Britain will leave the customs union after Brexit.
“[There will be a] dynamic trade relationship [between the UK and the EU] and we will take back control of our borders, but we remain an open and welcoming society,” he said. “We probably will have to come out of the customs union, but that’s a question I am sure will be discussed.”
The customs union allows the free trade of goods to those who are members, but members also have to apply the same tariffs to goods that imported from outside the union.
This is seen as a significant disadvantage after Britain leaves the EU, as ministers are keen that he UK should be able to set the terms of its own deals.
Downing Street insisted that the Government’s position had not changed and that no decision had been taken on the future membership of the customs union.
“The Foreign Secretary reflected the Government’s position which is that a decision hasn’t been taken,” Mrs May’s official spokeswoman said. “He was very clear that the Government had not taken a decision.”
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UK Migration Numbers
In total, 630,000 people moved to the UK in the year ending December 2015. Statistically this is a minor increase on 2014.
Net immigration of European Union (EU) citizens is estimated as 184,000 in the YE December 2015. An increase from 2014’s total of 174,000 is largely due to a rise in immigration from Romania and Bulgaria.
The number of migrants from countries outside the EU remained steady at 188,000 over the same period.
Of these, 308,000 people immigrated for work, an increase of 30,000 from the previous year and the highest estimate on record. Of these, 178,000 (58%) had a definite job to go to.
Source: Office for National Statistics, May 2016
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