Open Britain Background Briefing on the Conservative Manifesto

Conservative Manifesto: backwards, alone

  • The Conservative Party confirmed that they want to pursue a hard and destructive Brexit: out of the Single Market and Customs Union, prepared to leave the EU with no deal at all. They have dropped their pretence that they can deliver the “exact same benefits” outside the Single Market. The truth is, we will be poorer as a result of the decisions the Prime Minister has already taken.
  • This Conservative Party manifesto means the UK won’t be stronger or more stable, but weaker and more insecure. And we will move backwards, alone, not forward, together. 
  • The Conservative Party has chosen to put extreme cuts to immigration ahead of protecting the economy by sticking to its target to reduce net migration to the tens of thousands, which will lead to skills shortages.
  • The Conservative Party are disingenuous in their manifesto by suggesting that new trade deals can outweigh current trade benefits, when evidence suggests this will be impossible, and by saying that current border arrangements in Ireland can be retained, when their decisions will lead to new controls.
  • It is welcome that the Prime Minister has softened the tone on the financial settlement that will be required to secure an agreement with the European Union. It is notable that the ‘red line’ on the European Court of Justice does not appear, suggesting that the realities of a comprehensive free trade agreement may be dawning on the Conservatives.
  • The Conservative Party make a vague reference to continue participation in EU programmes, but it is deeply concerning that they do not specify vital national security agencies and arrangements such as Europol and the European Arrest Warrant, which are vital to keeping us safe. 


  • Hard Brexit: The Conservative Party is aiming to pursue the hardest of hard brexits, where they have embraced “no deal” as being an option. This would have catastrophic implications for the UK economy, further hitting wages and growth. The Conservatives’ stance is in stark contrast to that pursued by the Labour and Liberal Democrat parties, both of which have ruled this out. 

“we continue to believe that no deal is better than a bad deal”

  • Single Market: The Conservatives have confirmed that they want to take the UK out of the Single Market, which was a British creation (indeed pushed for by Margaret Thatcher’s Conservative Government in the 1980s) and the Customs Union. Through the Single Market, the UK has access to the largest market in the world, where the EU is the UK largest trading partner. This is a conscious decision to raise trade barriers, and will hit trade, investment, jobs and growth, and contradicts the Conservative pledge to champion an open economy.   

As we leave the European Union, we will no longer be members of the single market or the customs union but we will seek a deep and special partnership including a comprehensive free trade and customs agreement.”  

  • Global trade: The Conservatives believe that global trade deals will offset the costs of leaving the Single Market and Customs Union - indeed, this is a justification for this stance. However, as has been demonstrated by the National Institute of Social & Economic Research, the benefits gained from our current unimpeded access to the EU market is far superior to the hypothetical potential gains of new trade deals. Furthermore, new trade deals will have to come with visa-liberalisation, as has been called for by both Australia and India, making the Conservative party’s aims of reducing net migration even more improbable.   

“we will pursue free trade with European markets and secure new trade agreements with other countries”  

“The United Kingdom will be a global champion for an open economy, free trade, and the free flow of investment, ideas and information. Open and free trade is key to international prosperity, stability and security – it is an essential component of an economy that works for everyone.”

  • European Court of Justice: The manifesto does not mention in any way the European Court of Justice and it is unclear what position exactly the Conservative party now has regarding the ECJ, since escaping the Court’s jurisdiction in 2019 has previously been a red line. The European Union’s draft negotiating directives have called for EU citizens in the UK still being covered by its jurisdiction and for regulatory harmony in key areas: has the Conservative Party started to wake up to the realities of a ‘deep and comprehensive’ relationship and dropped this red line?  
  • EU citizen rights & Freedom of movement: Open Britain supports the manifesto’s stance of wanting to guarantee the rights of EU nationals in the UK. Freedom of movement is not covered at all in the manifesto and Open Britain would underline the important role which EU nationals had played in making key contributions to the UK economy and where businesses have been warning of labour shortages should free movement be completely ended. Again, given that retaining free movement is likely to be a feature of any transitional arrangement, has the Conservative Party softened a red line? 

We will control immigration and secure the entitlements of EU nationals in Britain and British nationals in the EU.”

  • Divisive migration target: Open Britain does not support the Conservatives’ aims of reducing migration to the tens of thousands. The target is politically dishonest, as it will never be met and so seeds distrust in politics. It is socially divisive, as it starts with the premise that there are too many migrants in the UK who should leave, whereas in fact they make a vital contribution to our economy and society and must be valued. And it is economically damaging, as every sector in our economy relies on migrants, at all skills levels. Open Britain has been running a campaign for the Government to drop this target, and will continue to do so. 

It is our objective to reduce immigration to sustainable levels, by which we mean annual net migration in the tens of thousands, rather than the hundreds of thousands we have seen over the last two decades” 

  • Agencies and programmes: Open Britain can broadly welcome the manifesto’s aims of wanting to continue to participate in European programmes, although the manifesto does not go into detail about which programmes. It should have gone further in this regard, including, for example the party’s stance on the ERASMUS and Horizon2020. 

There may be specific European programmes in which we might want to participate and if so, it will be reasonable that we make a contribution.”   

  • National security.  It is deeply concerning that the Conservative manifesto does not mention European security arrangements that the UK should seek to remain part of post-Brexit. Crucially these include the European Arrest Warrant and Europol. As Home Secretary, the Prime Minister decided to opt in to these. Now, as Prime Minister she seems to be choosing to put our national security at risk by failing to prioritise our continue participation in these arrangements, which make us safer through collective action.
  • Financial settlement. The Conservative Party again show a softening of position by making clear that they will pay a financial settlement with the EU, which flies in the face of some of the heated rhetoric from arch-Brexiteers, including the Foreign Secretary.

“We will determine a fair settlement of the UK’s rights and obligations as a departing member state, in accordance with the law and in the spirit of the UK’s continuing partnership with the EU. The principle, however, is clear: the days of Britain making vast annual contributions to the European Union will end.”

  • Northern Ireland: The manifesto is completely disingenuous on Northern Ireland. The Common Travel Area was designed before the EU’s Customs Union and Single Market. It is not good enough for the Conservative Party to say that it will be retained alongside “frictionless” trade. The fact is, their decisions to end free movement and leave the Customs Union will mean some new checks.

We will maintain the Common Travel Area and maintain a frictionless a border as possible for people, goods, and services between Northern Ireland and the Republic of Ireland.“