UNITED KINGDOM (June 1, 2017) – Brexit, immigration key issues in UK election

The election could have significant consequences for how the U.K. will approach negotiations with the EU

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IMPACT – MEDIUM

Voters will go to the polls June 8 in an election that could shape the United Kingdom’s immigration programs for years to come.

The U.K. is set to begin formal negotiations with the European Union on the U.K.’s departure from the EU after the country triggered Article 50 in March. Prime Minister Theresa May called the snap election in April, hoping to strengthen the Conservative Party’s majority and bolster her Brexit negotiating hand. May has sought to put Brexit at the heart of the campaign from the beginning, saying political “game-playing” threatened to undermine the U.K.’s break from the EU.

“Division in Westminster will risk our ability to make a success of Brexit,” May said in April, “and it will cause damaging uncertainty and instability to the country.”

May’s once-commanding lead in the polls has narrowed significantly, however. And voters will now have their say on what path the government should take on Brexit and other immigration issues. The parties differ substantially on their positions.

  • The Conservative Party: May has outlined plans for a “hard Brexit,” where the U.K. would leave Europe’s single market and regain control over migration from Europe. The Conservative Party’s manifesto also called for bringing net migration to the U.K. down to the “tens of thousands per year,” doubling the annual fee on companies that employ non-EU nationals to £2,000 per worker and promising to prevent a second referendum on Scottish independence until after the U.K. leaves the EU. The pledge to dramatically reduce migration to the U.K. has been a Conservative Party mantra since 2010 and is viewed by many as unrealistic, but was nonetheless included in the Conservatives’ platform once again.
  • The Labour Party: Labour is pledging to scrap the Conservatives’ approach to Brexit. The party said in its manifesto that it would immediately guarantee existing rights for EU nationals in the U.K. It rejected what it calls “bogus immigration targets” in favor of developing new migration systems with input from business, trade unions, the devolved governments and other stakeholders. Labour says it accepts the Brexit referendum result, but that it would reject May’s hard Brexit approach and would work on “retaining the benefits of the Single Market and the Customs Union.”
  • The Liberal Democrats: The Liberal Democrats are trying to position themselves as the strongest alternative for voters who wanted to stay in the EU. Their manifesto says they would put another referendum before U.K. voters, giving them the option to accept or reject the final agreement the U.K. reaches with the EU. This could create additional uncertainty, but it would give the public the final say on the best approach for Brexit. The Liberal Democrats also favor a unilateral guarantee of rights for EU nationals in the U.K., remaining in the Single Market, retaining freedom of movement and respecting the interests of Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland during Brexit negotiations.

The Conservatives, Labour and the Liberal Democrats all say they want to avoid a hard border between the Republic of Ireland and Northern Ireland; however, depending on the election outcome, they may differ in their negotiating approach with the EU on this issue. The EU has also said it does not want a hard border with between Ireland and the U.K.

The U.K.’s smaller political parties are also using the election to advance their agendas. The Scottish National Party is campaigning to give Scottish voters the chance to leave the U.K. once the terms of the Brexit deal are known. The right-wing UK Independence Party is pushing for a “one in, one out” immigration policy, aiming to reduce net migration to zero in a five-year period.

BAL Analysis: The election could have significant consequences for how the U.K. will approach negotiations with the EU. May had hoped to solidify support behind her by calling for the snap election, but the move was risky. Even if May wins the election, if Labour leader Jeremy Corbyn puts up a better-than-expected showing, May’s negotiating position may not be strengthened and could even be weakened. BAL is closely following the election and particularly the potential Brexit and immigration consequences and will continue updating clients on important developments.

This alert has been provided by the BAL Global Practice group in the United Kingdom. For additional information, please contact uk@balglobal.com.

Copyright © 2017 Berry Appleman & Leiden LLP. All rights reserved. Reprinting or digital redistribution to the public is permitted only with the express written permission of Berry Appleman & Leiden LLP. For inquiries please contact copyright@balglobal.com.


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