Theresa May has refused to rule out making it easier for EU citizens to come to the UK after Brexit than it is for people from elsewhere in the world.
Under her plan for UK-EU relations – agreed by cabinet on Friday – unlimited immigration from the EU will end.
But speaking to the BBC, Mrs May did not rule out preferential treatment for EU citizens after Brexit.
“We recognise that people will still want to have opportunities in each other’s countries,” she said.
But a briefing being circulated to the European Research Group (ERG) – a group of Eurosceptic Conservative backbench MPs – says the prime minister’s plan “would lead directly to a worst-of-all-worlds black hole Brexit”.
The 18-page document expresses concern the UK would have to follow EU laws and European Court of Justice rulings and would not be able to develop an “effective international trade policy”.
The BBC understands Foreign Secretary Boris Johnson was vocal and hostile in his opposition to Mrs May’s plan, which he reportedly said would leave the UK as a “vassal state” and be a “serious inhibitor of free trade”.
BBC political correspondent Nick Eardley said Mr Johnson is staying in the cabinet to “make the argument for Brexiteers”.
Asked if it was possible EU citizens might get some preferential treatment, the prime minister said: “We are going to decide. What we’re going to do is say what works for the UK, what’s right for the United Kingdom?”
A day after she secured cabinet approval on a plan for Britain’s future relationship with the EU, Mrs May said ministers were now expected to speak with collective responsibility.
“Collective responsibility has returned… we are moving forward together,” she told the BBC’s political editor Laura Kuenssberg.
Tory Brexiteer and ERG chair Jacob Rees-Mogg previously told the BBC that when detail of the plan emerged, it could yet be worse than leaving the EU without a deal.
Mr Rees-Mogg, said that so far only the three page summary of the deal had been published, and he would have to wait to see the full 100-plus page document to decide whether it was in line with the Conservative election manifesto, or amounted to a “punishment Brexit”.
Ready to talk
Mrs May will now have to take the plan to the EU, which she said was now ready to sit down and discuss the proposals.
“From the soundings I’ve had so far, there is a willingness to sit down and talk about this and a recognition that actually we now are in the stage where we need to agree what the future relationship’s going to be,” Mrs May said on Saturday.
“This is a serious, workable proposal,” she added.
The plans that ministers backed would see an end to freedom of movement. But a “mobility framework” would be set up to allow UK and EU citizens to travel to each other’s territories, and apply to study and work.
Mrs May said when people voted to leave the EU, “they wanted to take control of our money, our laws and our borders and that’s exactly what we will do”.
The main details from the Chequers statement:
- The UK would accept continuing “harmonisation” with EU rules on the trade in goods, covering only those necessary to ensure frictionless trade
- Parliament would have the final say over how these rules are incorporated into UK law, retaining the right to refuse to do so
- There will be different arrangements for trade in services, including financial products, with greater “regulatory flexibility” and “strong reciprocal arrangements”
- Freedom of movement as it stands will come to an end but a “mobility framework” will ensure UK and EU citizens can continue to travel to each other’s territories and apply for study and work
- A new customs arrangement will be phased in, with the goal of “a combined customs territory”
- The UK will be able to control its own tariffs and develop an independent trade policy
- The jurisdiction of the European Court of Justice will end but the UK will pay regard to its decisions in areas where common rules are in force