Exit from single market is a price worth paying, says Cleethorpes MP

By Grimsby Telegraph | Posted: 11 Jan 2017

THERESA May is keeping her negotiating cards close to her chest – but is her hand a royal flush for a "hard" Brexit? What would that mean for immigration to the UK? Parliamentary Correspondent Patrick Daly spoke to MPs about the balance between staying in the single market and tighter border controls.

WE KNOW the Prime Minister is playing it coy when it comes to her Brexit negotiations – but has she given her clearest hint yet as to what she wants to achieve?

Those favouring a so-called "hard" Brexit want Britain's vote to leave the European Union to mean being totally free of it, a result which would include leaving the tariff-free single market – a rather useful trading tool for Grimsby's seafood processing businesses, among others. Advocates for exiting the single market see it as the only way of gaining control of the nation's borders and ending free movement of labour across Europe.

And, from the sounds of it, Theresa May could well be about to give those hard Brexit fans what they want.

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In an extensive television interview on Sunday, the former Home Secretary said the UK should not look to keep "bits" of EU membership after it departs.

The PM said: "We mustn't think about this as somehow we're coming out of the EU but we want to keep bits of membership.

"We're leaving, we're coming out. But we will get the best possible deal for trading with and operating within the single market."

The Conservative Party uses almost every press release to drum home its belief that, with the Labour Party in two-minds and the Liberal Democrats firmly against immigration curbs, it is the only major party able to deliver on cutting the amount of people coming to Britain.

And to do that, it is likely that the UK will have to exit the single market in order to put an end to the free movement of people coming into Britain from the EU's member states.

That would mean "the best possible" deal, which the PM referred to, would come down to haggling to pay the least amount possible for access to the EU trading market – an outcome which some economists warn could damage the economy and hit smaller industries, such as fishing for example, particularly hard.

The thinking goes that Britain will be allowed to pay smaller, or even trade tariff-free, in the markets where it holds a large export share but then be charged a far higher rate for trading rights where it is not such a big player – such as in the fishing industry.

One firm believer in getting as far away from Brussels controls or affiliations as possible is Cleethorpes MP Martin Vickers.

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The Tory backbencher said he would be willing to see the UK pull out of the single market in order to give British courts and politicians full autonomy.

"If that's the price we have to pay, then so be it," said Mr Vickers.

"If we end up not having that access then it will be successful and far-sighted businesses, which can adapt to changing circumstances, that will survive. That's the way it has always been, especially if they deal internationally."

Mr Vickers acknowledged that Mrs May had "indicated" she would like to withdraw from the single market but that she was continuing to "keep her cards close to her chest".

"She is doing the most sensible thing which is not showing her negotiation hand," he added.

He, like many others in the Cleethorpes constituency, want any final brokered deal to offer the chance to limit immigration. But why would those in North East Lincolnshire – where only 4 per cent of people living in the region were born outside the UK – want tighter controls?

The ex-councillor said it came down to wanting to preserve a sense of British culture – something the Labour Party was failing to grasp, he argued.

"My constituents see the level of migration as being at such a rate that it is bringing about a cultural change in the country that is happening at too quick a pace. It simply has to be controlled if we are to run public services at a level that is acceptable," said Mr Vickers.

"You can't constantly increase those numbers when we don't know what they will end up being under free movement. The strain on our hospitals, schools and other public services is too great."

He continued: "Every time a Labour spokesman talks about immigration being a great benefit and that it must continue or stay near its present levels, they are actually losing thousands of votes amongst their traditional Labour support base. Those are the areas which are most hit by high levels of immigration."

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Labour faces a tightrope walk on the issue of immigration. In some of its heartland areas, such as urban parts surrounding the Humber Estuary, communities voted overwhelmingly to leave the EU – despite the party campaigning to remain.

Deputy leader Tom Watson confirmed this week that Labour still did not have a firm position on what Britain's post-Brexit immigration systems should look like.

Jeremy Corbyn, the leader of the party, has since made steps to address this. In a speech yesterday, he said that Labour would not be "wedded" to the principle of free movement but, in interviews, assured that he continued to see current migration levels as a good thing for the country.

Mr Watson, speaking to Sky News on Sunday, said: "I want to be able to say that this country will have control over its own borders (after Brexit), that we'll be able to count the number of people in and count the number of people out, (and) make sure that people have convincing, fair solutions so people's genuine concerns about immigration are addressed.

"That is one of the challenges that Labour will have in its manifesto, whenever that election comes, and if we don't address that issue, then Labour won't win that election."

Great Grimsby MP Melanie Onn has become the latest in the party to announce that immigration can no longer remain as it is.

She said that the Government – and therefore also the Labour Party if it were ever to return to power – must find the middle ground between stemming the tide of incomers while keeping migration-reliant industries and sectors alive.

Ms Onn called for "the best possible market access to Europe" for Grimsby's businesses, which she stated meant "tariff-free" access for the town's major industries.

The Labour politician continued: "It's also clear from the referendum result that people want fair and proportionate immigration that is sensibly managed and meets the needs of the whole country.

"The Government has to listen to what people are saying and take their worries seriously, but the UK's immigration policy outside of the EU must not put at jeopardy our hospitals and care homes, which wouldn't be able to function without migrant labour.

"Where wages have been depreciated, it is for the Government to ensure workers are not being exploited, and where housing or school places are hard to come by, the Government must invest to meet the needs of a growing population. By ignoring these challenges over the last six years and cutting funding for local services, the Conservatives have only increased isolation within our communities."

Immigration controls and the single market appear to be two sides of a single coin – only one can land upright in the Brexit wrangle.

While immigration was not the sole concern of those who voted to leave the EU, it is seen as the major one and something politicians have latched onto. Leaving the single market could be detrimental to the country's short and even long-term economic future, but allowing immigration flows to remain as they are could mean a wipe-out for whatever political party has the reins as Britain's EU divorce comes to fruition.

No wonder Mrs May is so keen to remain tight-lipped on it all – the direction she sets is sure to create wide-reaching ripples in the financial, cultural and political landscape for decades to come.

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