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Britain 'must accept EU citizens' right to work in UK for single market access'

Published 26/09/2016

Allies of Theresa May, pictured with then PM David Cameron, have denied claims she blocked plans to curb EU immigration into Britain
Allies of Theresa May, pictured with then PM David Cameron, have denied claims she blocked plans to curb EU immigration into Britain

Britain will only be allowed to retain access to the single market if it accepts the right of EU citizens to work in the UK, the leaders of Slovakia and the Czech Republic have insisted.

After meeting in the Slovak capital Bratislava, Robert Fico and Bohuslav Sobotka said they "can't imagine" their citizens would not receive equal treatment after Britain exits the EU.

Slovak PM Mr Fico, whose government currently holds the rotating presidency of the EU, said he "will fight hard" for the rights of some 70,000 of his countrymen and women residing in the UK.

Mr Sobotka said the EU needed to stand united in negotiations over the UK's Brexit "divorce deal" with the rest of the bloc.

The warning came after Downing Street insisted Brexit would lead to London being able to control the number of people coming to the UK from the EU.

Number 10 also described reports the Government had settled on a "hard Brexit" negotiating stance as "speculation" ahead of a keynote address to the World Trade Organisation by International Trade Secretary Liam Fox in Switzerland on Tuesday.

Immigration has returned to the top of the political agenda after Theresa May's supporters hit back at claims she was branded "lily-livered" by David Cameron after she scuppered his plans for tough new controls on the movement of EU labour to the UK.

Mrs May's camp took the unusual step of releasing details of her private correspondence with Mr Cameron after a new book claimed she had blocked plans to curb the numbers coming into Britain from the EU.

Mr Cameron had wanted the so-called "emergency brake" as part of his EU renegotiation in order to convince voters that he would be able to reduce immigration if Britain remained in the EU.

However in his book, All Out War, Sunday Times political editor Tim Shipman says he was prevented from doing so by Mrs May - who was then home secretary - and the then foreign secretary Philip Hammond, now Chancellor of the Exchequer.

It quotes one Cameron aide as saying: "Hammond spoke first and argued we just couldn't do something that would receive an immediate raspberry in Europe. Theresa said very, very little, and simply said that we just couldn't go against Merkel."

A "visibly deflated" Mr Cameron was said to have turned to one official and said: "I can't do it without their support. If it wasn't for my lily-livered cabinet colleagues ..."

But according to the details released by the May camp, she twice wrote letters to him - in November 2014 and May 2015 - in which she argued the case for an emergency brake.

In the first she is said to have proposed the emergency brake as one of a series of measures to rebalance the rights of citizens to move within the EU so national governments can act in the best interests of their resident populations.

In the second she was said to have argued that the emergency brake was crucial to cutting numbers and convincing the public the Government was capable of policing its own borders.

Mrs May's spokesman told a Westminster briefing: "There is absolutely no doubt the Prime Minister is in favour of immigration control.

"Following Brexit we will be able to control the number of people coming to Britain from the EU - she's made that point at the G20, and she has made it elsewhere."

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