James Forsyth

Decision time approaches for Theresa May

Decision time approaches for Theresa May
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Parliament is off for the summer, and the exodus to the beaches has begun. But Theresa May isn’t heading off there. She has serious work to do this summer, she has to work out what she wants out of the UK’s EU exit deal.

As I say in The Sun this morning, May is just being honest when she says that she has an ‘open mind’ on what the deal should look like. But she doesn’t have long to decide what she does want. Indeed, I understand, that the Mays have already scrubbed one planned summer break to allow her to work on this.

May is right to want the deal that’s best for Britain, rather than simply trying to replicate someone else’s deal with the EU. But a bespoke deal will, inevitably, take time to negotiate. As one minister puts it, ‘If you buy a suit off the peg, then you can walk out the shop with it. But if you want it made to measure, it is going to take a lot longer’.

But strikingly even among Cabinet Ministers who backed Remain, there is a sense that the deal must end free movement. In private, they are clear that maintaining free movement but only for workers wouldn’t be enough. One of those who backed Remain warns, ‘To have a deal that doesn’t end free movement would be to turn our backs on the referendum result’.

This shouldn’t mean an end to EU immigration into the UK. Firms need to be able to hire talented people from across Europe, and the world. But UK immigration policy should be determined by the UK parliament.

Now, as I say in the magazine this week, there might well be a transition period between the UK leaving the EU and the Free Trade agreement being ratified when the UK would be in the EEA—and, therefore, accepting free movement. If May thinks that is likely to be the case, she would do well to sell this idea to the Tory party at conference while she is still enjoying her political honeymoon.