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What are the Brexit policies in the UK election?

One overriding issue hangs over the United Kingdom’s forthcoming general election: Brexit.

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What are the Brexit policies in the UK election?

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One overriding issue hangs over the United Kingdom’s forthcoming general election: Brexit. Although arguments rage over the economy, tax, education, public services and the rest, the next government will soon be eyeball-to-eyeball with the European Union as departure negotiations finally begin. The outcome will determine Britain’s future way beyond the new parliamentary five-year term.

By holding the snap election three years early, Prime Minister Theresa May hopes an increased majority for her Conservative government will strengthen her position in the EU talks.

Here is a summary of the Brexit policies of the main parties which have published election manifestos.

The Conservatives: ‘Forward, Together’

The ruling party’s manifesto unveiled by Theresa May on Thursday reiterates the principles set out in the prime minister’s Lancaster House speech in January (a summary of the key points is available here), the government’s White Paper published the following month, and May’s letter to the European Council president when she triggered the Lisbon Treaty’s Article 50 in March to set in motion the formal process.


The process of leaving the EU is only covered in a few paragraphs in the 84-page manifesto, and no figures or estimates of the future effect on the economy are given.

The UK’s future relations with the bloc are outlined in positive terms: several times in a few lines the desire for a new “deep and special partnership” is evoked. Negotiations will be entered into in “a spirit of sincere cooperation”. However there is recognition that the talks “will undoubtedly be tough” – with “give and take on both sides” – as is the possibility that the two-year process may end with no accord: “no deal is better than a bad deal for the UK”.

Britain will no longer be a member of the EU’s single market or customs union – overturning the party’s stance at the last election in 2015. Half a sentence is devoted to a resolve to secure the rights of EU nationals in Britain and British nationals in the EU, with no more details. Workers’ rights conferred by EU law on British citizens will continue.


The manifesto makes clear that “the days of Britain making vast annual contributions” to the EU will be over – but possible future payments to “specific European programmes” may be “reasonable”. On the disputed timetable, the Conservatives argue it is “necessary” to agree future partnership terms “alongside our withdrawal”: the EU insists the UK’s divorce terms must be agreed first.

Last October Theresa May told the Conservative Party conference that a return to the jurisdiction of the European Court of Justice was “not going to happen”. The manifesto says the repatriation of EU law to the UK means future legislation will be “interpreted by judges across the United Kingdom, not in Luxembourg”.

Confirming that immigration should be “controlled and reduced” with “annual net migration in the tens of thousands – the current figure is 273,000 – the manifesto says that “for the first time in decades” there will be the power to bring that about with regard to people coming from the European Union.

This last point hits the fault line of the EU’s cherished principle of free movement and its repeated warnings that Britain cannot “cherry-pick” the benefits of membership without respecting it.

Labour: ‘For the Many, not the Few’

“Labour accepts the referendum result”, reads the opening statement in the Brexit section in the UK opposition party manifesto, which talks of building “a close new relationship with the EU”… “not as members but as partners”.


The party led by Jeremy Corbyn attacks Theresa May’s “reckless approach to Brexit” and resolves to introduce “fresh negotiating priorities”. In contrast to the Conservatives’ prerogative of controlling immigration, Labour puts “a strong emphasis on retaining the benefits of the Single Market and the Customs Union” to protect jobs and the economy.

The manifesto says the party if elected will “immediately guarantee” existing rights of EU nationals in Britain, and secure reciprocal rights for Britons in Europe. The possibility of no deal being agreed at the end of negotiations is described as “the worst possible deal for Britain”. Transitional arrangements should be negotiated if necessary, to avoid a “cliff-edge” for the UK economy.

There are commitments to remaining members of European research, scientific and student programmes. Access to EU markets for UK farmers and food producers will be secured, along with protection against cheap food imports. EU-derived laws bringing benefit to the workplace, consumer rights or the environment will be “fully protected”. Parliament is to be given a “truly meaningful vote on the final Brexit deal”.


On immigration, Labour makes “no apologies” for putting growth, jobs and prosperity above “bogus immigration targets”. The manifesto talks of “fair rules” and a need to balance “controls and existing entitlements”. The party resolves to reinstate a Migrant Impact Fund where immigration places a strain on public services.

As for trade, Labour’s manifesto says “the EU accounts for 44 percent of current exports and will continue to be priority trading partner”, adding “it is vital that we retain unrestricted access for our goods and services”.

However, how the party would achieve its aims in Brexit negotiations given the EU’s position is open to question: Labour’s document recognises that “freedom of movement will end” and that “Britain’s immigration system will change”.

The Liberal Democrats: ‘Change Britain’s Future’

The Lib Dems – all but wiped out in Parliament at the last election having spent several years in a coalition government with David Cameron’s Conservatives – are reaching out to the 48 percent of voters who rejected Brexit in the EU referendum. Their pledge to so-called Remainers in the party’s manifesto is to offer a second nationwide vote on a final Brexit deal.

“Britain is better off in the EU,” is the unequivocal statement in the manifesto’s section on Europe. Where Labour uses the word “accept”, the Lib Dems “acknowledge” the referendum result – but argue that though people voted to leave the European Union, there was no option about the shape of Britain’s future relationship with the EU.


After listing the negative effects of what is described as Theresa May’s “hard Brexit” plan, the party plays what it hopes could be its ace card for many voters. “The people should have the final say” on any negotiated deal, the manifesto says. The ballot paper in the second referendum should contain the alternative option of staying in the EU.

Under a heading of “fighting a hard Brexit’, the Lib Dems then promise to try to keep Britain “as close as possible to Europe” during the negotiations. The rights of EU nationals in the UK should be “unilaterally” guaranteed, with bureaucratic obstacles slashed. The government should use its influence to secure the same rights for Britons living in EU countries.

On trade, the centrist party argues for membership of the single market and customs union. It also supports the principle of freedom of movement – a symbol of Britain as “an open, tolerant society” – and says any Brexit deal “must protect the right to work, travel, study and retire across the EU”. Benefits brought by EU law should be defended – from maternity leave to the environment, research funding to travel insurance.

There is also a pledge to respect the interests of Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland – and the people of Gibraltar.

The Liberal Democrat programme has been criticised by one pro-Brexit commentator as “a manifesto of two halves” – one for government, one for what it would do in opposition.


UKIP: ‘Britain Together’

“The referendum was great: we won the war, now we’ve got to win the peace,” UKIP leader Paul Nuttall told BBC radio on the day the party published its manifesto. The United Kingdom Independence Party’s relentless onslaught on EU membership over several years had a crucial influence on the national mood, culminating in the vote to leave. But the euphoria that saw ex-leader Nigel Farage proclaim “Independence Day” has turned to concern that Theresa May’s Conservative government will “begin to backslide during the Brexit negotiations”.

May’s embrace of Brexit has seen UKIP’s poll rating wither but Nuttall says the party needs be “the country’s insurance policy, the guard dogs of Brexit”. Arguing that the UK should not be invoking the Article 50 process (“a trap”) and should have already left the EU “unilaterally”, the manifesto sets out six key tests. Britain must “be completely free from the jurisdiction of the European Court of Justice”, “not be bound by any freedom of movement obligation”, refuse any EU divorce payment or budget contributions, and seek future trade deals as part of the World Trade Organisation (WTO), outside the EU single market and customs union.

On immigration UKIP proposes “an Australian-style points-based system, and a work permit system”, aiming to reduce net migration to zero over five years. EU nationals who arrived in the UK before Article 50 was triggered would have the right to stay indefinitely.

Virtually half of the manifesto’s “Brexit Britain” section is devoted to the UK’s fishing industry; the EU’s Common Fisheries Policy (CFP) was massively unpopular with the country’s fishermen, who voted overwhelmingly for Brexit. “The UK’s full maritime sovereignty must be restored”, the document says, by establishing an exclusive economic zone under international law. UKIP vows to end the “obscenity” of the EU’s policy on discarded fish – without mentioning EU reforms in this area.


The SNP: ‘Stronger for Scotland’

The Scottish National Party (SNP) all but swept the board in the 2015 UK general election, sending MPs to Westminster in 56 out of 59 Scottish seats. A significant majority of Scottish voters then voted to remain in the European Union in the June 2016 referendum. The SNP complains that proposals by the devolved government under its control in Edinburgh to keep Scotland in the EU’s Single Market have been rejected by the UK government.

In its manifesto the party seeks “a place for Scotland at the Brexit negotiating table” and for its place in the Single Market to be part of the UK’s negotiating remit. There should be a “cast-iron guarantee” that the UK government should seek the Scottish Parliament’s approval of the terms of the Brexit Bill. The party calls for a second independence referendum at the end of the Brexit process, vowing to secure Scotland’s membership of the EU.

The SNP says the EU’s Common Fisheries Policy should be fundamentally reformed or scrapped, and promises to oppose any attempt by the UK government “to treat the fishing industry as a bargaining chip”. Workers’ rights and other protections under EU membership should not be diminished after Brexit, the manifesto says. Post-Brexit trade deals should be transparent with both UK and Scottish Parliaments having a say. Long-term funding arrangements for farming, fishing and universities should match current levels. The UK should stay part of the European Medicines Agency (EMA).

The rights of EU nationals to remain in the UK should be guaranteed, the manifesto says – the UK government’s treatment of them is described as “shameful” – and post-Brexit border checks should be “as seamless as possible” to allow tourists to visit Scotland. Immigration policies should be devolved to the Scottish Parliament so Scotland can attract EU workers to the health service; it also recognises their value to the food and drinks industry.