The Australian High Commissioner, Alexander Downer, has warned that if Britain is to sign a free trade deal with Australia, it must relax immigration laws for Australian citizens. Australia was amongst the first nations to offer their support to Britain following the June referendum, where Britain voted to leave the EU, arguing that a free trade deal between the two countries would be in both of their best interests, and would be relatively easy to conclude swiftly. The remarks made by the High Commissioner mark the first real power play in the negotiations between the countries, in what has so far been just amicable preamble between the two nations.

Brexit means Brexit

Despite the insistence on looser immigration controls, this is something that will most likely fail to materialise for the Australian government. The British prime minister has put control of migration at the center of her negotiations with the EU, and has made it clear that not even exclusion from the single market is a powerful enough disincentive to give away control on the controversial issue of migration. This is a stance which will be mirrored in trade talks with Australia, and the ball will be in their court as to whether or not they accept the only deal Britain is willing to offer at this time.

Keep calm and keep negotiating

This comes at a time when the Australian economy is facing significant economic headwinds as falling Chinese demand for commodities has hit the mining and industrial economy.

Theresa May has already proven that she is willing to hit negotiating partners where it hurts and is more than capable of exploiting the faltering Australian economy to get a trade deal which completely ignores any reform or change to migration policy. That being said, Australian migration is likely to be less controversial than EU migration, and would be more palatable to the British public, giving the Conservatives more leeway than they have with the current EU negotiations. This is the opening gambit and a sounding out of the British government position by Australia, and it should be politely and firmly rebuffed.