Another day, another mixed message from the government over its position on Brexit. This time it’s immigration that has become the source of confusion after the Home Secretary and her minister appeared to come up with conflicting lines this morning.
In an article for the Financial Times, Amber Rudd said she wanted to reassure businesses and EU nationals that ‘we will ensure there is no “cliff edge” once we leave the bloc’. To do this, she said the flow of EU workers would continue for an ‘implementation period’ after Britain’s exit. However, speaking on the Today programme, Brandon Lewis – the Home Office minister – appeared to take a more hardline approach. He said freedom of movement from the EU would end in Spring 2019.
Now it may be a question of semantics – ‘freedom of movement’ as mandated by the EU will technically end once Britain leaves the EU, even if a near identical system replaces it in the implementation period. But at a time when the UK government should be offering clarity, this is not a good look.
Rather than pure incompetence, another factor could explain the mixed messages. When it comes to the negotiations, the government is being pulled in three directions. They are trying to offer certainty to business, reassure voters they will get the Brexit they voted for and – finally – not spoil negotiations with the EU.
But the most notable part of today’s media was not what was said but what was missing. At no point in Rudd’s op-ed did she bring up Theresa May’s target to cut net migration to the tens of thousands. During the snap election, there were reports that the only person in Cabinet who supported it was the Prime Minister herself. The fact that the Home Secretary isn’t even bothering to pay lip-service to the target any more is another sign of May’s diminished status.