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Abu Dhabi, UAEFriday 22 June 2018

UK minister says foreign worker agreement 'no huge deal' after Brexit 

Free labour and trade movement could continue until 2022

Britain's International Trade Secretary Liam Fox announced £100 million in credit to support the fourth phase of the Dubai World Trade Centre.
Britain's International Trade Secretary Liam Fox announced £100 million in credit to support the fourth phase of the Dubai World Trade Centre.

Foreign workers could continue to move freely into Britain until 2022, dragging out the process by which the UK fully cuts its ties with the European Union, a senior minister said on Sunday.

Liam Fox, the UK’s International Trade Secretary, said that any transitional agreement with the EU would not be a “huge deal” but wanted Britain’s future relationship with the bloc sorted out before the next national elections, scheduled for 2022.

The UK set out plans for a “bold and ambitious” post-Brexit free trade agreement in a letter triggering its departure from the EU in March, but negotiations have since been deadlocked over the size of the UK’s checking-out bill and the rights of EU citizens living in the UK.

The Government last week said it was backing a transitional deal to placate business concerned about trade barriers and the ability to secure overseas worker when the UK quits the EU in 2019.

The extension of the rights of labour movement is a contentious topic with many who voted for the UK to leave the European Union in last year’s referendum citing immigration as their main motivation.

The government - bruised by unexpected reversals in June’s snap election – has sought to portray the extension as a short-term, pro-business move intended to protect the economy. The Confederation of British Industry, which represents employers, said that the EU should stay in the single market and customs union for a period after Brexit.

Mr Fox has previously said that he wanted interim measures to last a “few months” but said on Sunday that he wanted to “get it out of the way” before the next election. “I don’t think people would want to have it dragging on,” he told the BBC.

His comments follow a series of difficult negotiations between the UK and the EU. The EU’s chief negotiator Michel Barnier said last week that “fundamental differences” remained between the two sides after the second round of talks.

Concerns about rising tariffs and trade barriers for a post-Brexit Britain has led to a slide in the value of the pound against the dollar and slowing of economic growth.

"I think we are going to find it very, very hard to meet this two-year deadline before we crash out," Tim Bale, professor of politics at Queen Mary University of London told the Associated Press.

Mr Fox is in the United States this week to lay the basis for a post-Brexit trade deal. Donald Trump said that he would back a “very, very big” trade deal between the two countries.

Meanwhile, Boris Johnson, the foreign secretary, is visiting New Zealand and Australia. It follows a three-day trip to Japan that left Mr Johnson predicting an “all-singing, all-dancing” trade deal.