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Abu Dhabi, UAESaturday 15 December 2018

Brexit deal will level playing field for non-EU migrants, says Theresa May

EU nationals will no longer be able to “jump the queue”

Britain's prime minister Theresa May speaks during the 2018 CBI Conference. Getty
Britain's prime minister Theresa May speaks during the 2018 CBI Conference. Getty

British Prime Minister Theresa May has said her Brexit withdrawal deal will lead to a skills-based immigration system where EU nationals are no longer prioritised over non-EU workers.

Mrs May was making the case for her deal at the Confederation of British Industry (CBI) on Monday as speculation about an impending no confidence vote in her leadership raged.

Ahead of a visit to Brussels this week, the prime minister said the draft agreement would mean that EU workers could no longer “jump the queue ahead of engineers from Sydney or software developers from Delhi”.

"Instead of a system based on where a person is from, we will have one that is built around the talents and skills a person has to offer," she told business leaders.

The CBI’s president John Allan has endorsed the draft agreement, which he said was not perfect but would avoid the “wrecking ball” of no deal.

The 585-page document has led to deeper divisions in the Conservative Party with more than 20 MPs publicly backing a no-confidence vote in Mrs May.

Pro-Brexit politician Simon Clarke appealed to his colleagues in the party to rebel against the prime minister.

"It is quite clear to me that the captain is driving the ship at the rocks," Mr Clarke said on Monday.

Forty-eight MPs need to submit no-confidence letters to Sir Graham Brady, chairman of the 1922 committee to trigger such a vote.

British tabloid The Sun reported on Monday that the threshold had not yet been reached, with 42 politicians believed to have submitted letters.

Meanwhile during a meeting of EU ministers in Brussels, Spain threatened to reject the draft deal unless Madrid can negotiate the future of Gibraltar directly with Britain.

"The negotiations between Britain and the EU have a territorial scope that does not include Gibraltar, the negotiations on the future of Gibraltar are separate discussions," said Spain’s foreign minister Josep Borrell.

"This is what needs to made clear, and until it is clarified in the withdrawal agreement and in the political declaration on the future relationship, we cannot give our backing (to the deal)."

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Spain contests Britain’s sovereignty over the peninsula, which has a population of 30,000 people.

Madrid’s intervention on Monday is the first sign of division to the draft deal among the other 27-member states in the EU. The withdrawal agreement must be approved by qualified majority voting at an emergency EU summit on November 25.

Michel Barnier, the EU’s chief Brexit negotiator, said ministers had agreed “in principle” to a one-off extension of the transition period agreed in the draft text if more time is needed to finalise a trading deal.

Under the withdrawal agreement, Britain will remain follow EU rules until December 2020 to give both sides more time to make an agreement on trade.

Austrian European affairs minister Gernot Bluemel described the coming days as “a painful week” in European politics.

"We have the divorce papers on the table,” he said. “Forty-five years of difficult marriage are coming to an end."