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UK Brexit minister warns EU migrants

July 17, 2016

David Davis, the Brexit minister, has told a Sunday newspaper that new EU migrants who travel to Britain may be sent home to avoid a surge in immigration. Migrants already in the UK can stay.

Großbritannien Kabinett David Davis
Image: picture-alliance/dpa/PA Wire/J. Brady

Davis, the Secretary for State for Exiting the European Union, who leads the newly established ministry dismissed the idea that the UK could expel three million migrants from the EU who already live in Britain.

Speaking to The Mail on Sunday, he said he wanted to secure a "generous settlement" for both EU migrants already in the UK and for UK citizens who live in continental Europe. Davis denied that he was using UK citizens in the EU as a "bargaining counter."

If large numbers of migrants arrive in the UK ahead of Brexit, "we may have to say that the 'right to indefinite leave to remain' protection only applies before a certain date," Davis said.

"We may have to deal with that," Davis said in the interview. "There are a variety of possibilities." One of those possibilities would be to allow residence only to migrants who arrive before a set date, he said.

Brexit 'buffer'

Unlike Prime Minister Theresa May, Davis was an outspoken proponent of Brexit during the referendum campaign. He has rejected forecasts that leaving the EU would cause a recession in the UK.

Outside of the bloc, the UK would become the "most open-market and open-minded country in the world," he said. New trade deals would also "buffer any turbulence" caused by the split, Davis added.

On Sunday, May's office announced in a statement that Australian Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull had already proposed striking such a free trade deal with Britain "as soon as possible."

The statement said May had voiced her willingness to sign an agreement in the near future, while recognizing that Britain was legally prevented from striking deals of this kind while still an EU member.

May called it an "encouraging" sign for Britain's successful post-Brexit future that a partner such as Australia was already seeking a free-trade deal.

Turnbull, who recently retained power in a national election, on Sunday confirmed that he had discussed a free-trade agreement with May, describing their conversation on Saturday as "constructive."

Immigration still key

The UK official vowed to take a tough line in negotiating Brexit terms. He also dismissed claims that the EU would refuse to negotiate before London officially triggers exit procedure.

"We don't have to do any negotiations, just find out where their interests are. It's not the same thing," he said, adding that London would "know the shape of the deal" by the time it triggered Article 50 which marks the start of two years of formal negotiations.

Immigration has been the key factor for many Brexit supporters, with a large number of voters angry over workers arriving from Poland or Romania. It may also become a flashpoint in the EU exit talks. Namely, London aims to secure access to the joint European market, but Brussels has signaled such access is only possible if UK respects the four principles of EU membership - which include free movement of labor.

dj/jm (AFP, Mail on Sunday)