May risks row on immigration after rejecting points system

Britain's Prime Minister Theresa May speaks at a press conference after the closing of the G20 Leaders Summit in Hangzhou on Sept 5, 2016.
Britain's Prime Minister Theresa May speaks at a press conference after the closing of the G20 Leaders Summit in Hangzhou on Sept 5, 2016.PHOTO: AFP

HANGZHOU • British Prime Minister Theresa May has rejected a "points-based" system to screen immigrants, setting up a potential conflict with Brexit campaigners in her government who had promised to bring in Australian-style controls over European Union migrants.

Mrs May, who favoured staying in the EU but has promised to deliver on the June 23 referendum vote by steering Britain out of the bloc, said such systems were difficult to manage and there was no "silver bullet" on immigration.

Mrs May has made it clear that there will have to be tougher controls over immigration but has yet to say how the rules will work - a crucial issue for employers and for negotiations with the EU over future British access to the European market.

Mrs May's words will fuel fears among voters and eurosceptic lawmakers that having a pro-Remain prime minister will result in a watered-down version of Brexit that does not represent what people voted for.

"There is no single silver bullet that is the answer in terms of dealing with immigration," she told reporters on her way to the Group of 20 summit in China, citing her experience as Britain's longest-serving interior minister in more than 50 years. "One of the issues is whether or not points-based systems do work."

Australia vets immigrants according to their occupation, qualifications and other factors. A source close to Mrs May said she objected to points-based systems because they were hard for governments to control and she would prefer a system that could be more directly influenced. The comments offer the first glimpse of Mrs May's stance on the hardest question thrown up by the referendum: how to tighten border controls with the EU without losing access to its single market.

Britain's 27 EU partners so far have been adamant that it cannot enjoy full trade benefits unless it continues to allow in EU nationals.

Mrs May's words will fuel fears among voters and eurosceptic lawmakers that having a pro-Remain prime minister will result in a watered-down version of Brexit that does not represent what people voted for.

"I'm worried," Mr Nigel Farage, one of the most prominent Brexit campaigners and a former head of the UK Independence Party, told BBC radio. Mr Farage said British voters had endorsed the idea of a points-based system.

REUTERS

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on September 06, 2016, with the headline 'May risks row on immigration after rejecting points system'. Print Edition | Subscribe