Michael Gove and other key Cabinet Brexiteers have finally agreed that the UK needs a “transitional” period after Brexit to keep skilled EU migrants coming into Britain.
The Environment Secretary said today the “cabinet is united” over the need for an “implementation period” to ensure economic stability.
On Thursday evening sources revealed to HuffPost UK that Gove had changed his view on the controversial issue since the general election.
It came after Downing Street confirmed for the first time that the “implementation phase” was now Government policy.
Gove, who along with Boris Johnson led the Vote Leave campaign in last year’s EU referendum, shifted position after realising just how crucial a transition would be to help British farmers, a senior Cabinet source has revealed.
The consensus is now that EU migration could continue for at least two years after Brexit formally takes place in April 2019.
It remains unclear whether the Foreign Secretary is happy with the idea of phasing elements of the UK’s exit from the EU, even after it ceases to be a member, but Cabinet agreement has been achieved, ministers believe.
On Thursday, International Trade Secretary Liam Fox – who last week suggested a transition of a ‘few months’ would be appropriate - appeared to also shift his stance to back a longer period.
In a boost to Chancellor Philip Hammond, Fox told the BBC that because he had been waiting to leave the EU “for a very long time, another two years, say, wouldn’t be too much to ask”.
Brexit Secretary David Davis has also shifted his stance. Last year he was reported to have told a private City meeting that he was “not really interested” in a transitional period and would only consider one to be “be kind” to the EU.
One Government source said that the length of the transition was a “technical question” rather than one of principle or politics, with key issues how quickly border controls and customs technology could be brought up to speed to replicate the current EU membership arrangements, but outside the bloc.
The Prime Minister announced in her ‘Lancaster House’ Brexit speech earlier this year that the UK “may” support an implementation phase.
But in a low-key announcement on Thursday afternoon, as May met her ‘Business Council’ of industry and City bosses, a No.10 spokeswoman revealed that the policy would now go ahead.
“Our position on this implementation period is that there will be one,” the spokeswoman said.
“As to how long that will be will be dependent on agreements that we reach through the period of negotiation. It’s too soon to say.
“The PM is sitting in Downing Street with business leaders and she wants to make sure there is certainty and understanding of our position. That’s the start of an intensive communication with business.
“She intends to try and give them that certainty through talking to them privately and in being clear what our positions are.”
The shift is a victory for Hammond, who wants to give business early reassurance that Brexit will be smooth and not have any “cliff-edge” effects on trade once the exit date of March 31, 2019 passes.
Referring to the need for a clear Government position on the transition period, one Cabinet source said that “business wants this as soon as possible, like yesterday”.
Ministers believe that both UK and European businesses are not yet withdrawing investment because of Brexit fears and that they want to stay in Britain if they possibly can.
There is now a push to make public the policy in the autumn, as the formal talks in Brussels enter the next crucial phase.
Hammond said last weekend that “the way to get the economy moving, the way to restore business confidence and then consumer confidence, is to give as much clarity as possible as early as possible, which is why I have been talking over the last four or five weeks about the importance of a transition arrangement”.
He told the Andrew Marr Show: “And I believe the great majority of my colleagues now recognise that that is the right and sensible way to go, both in the UK and in the European Union.”
Earlier this year, May said “we may need implementation periods”. “We made that point in our Article 50 letter to ensure that the practical arrangements can be put in place for that new relationship.”
She has also insisted that “does not mean an unlimited transitional phase”.
Keen Brexiteer and Tory backbencher Anne-Marie Trevelyan told BBC Radio 4′s Today programme on Friday that she was happy with a transition deal on the UK’s border controls..
She said that Leave voters had most of all wanted “control” of immigration, not necessarily reduced migration, and some businesses such as fruit farmers would continue to rely on EU labour for the medium term.
Labour MP Wes Streeting MP, a supporter of the Open Britain campaign group, said: “If it is true that the Cabinet now accept the need for a transitional period to avoid a cliff-edge Brexit, it is a welcome u-turn from Ministers and a big victory for the Chancellor.
“Realism rather than rhetoric must now drive the Government’s approach to Brexit.”