So, What's The Issue In A Nutshell?
This one’s a biggie. Currently, people across the European Union are free to live, work and travel in any country in the bloc without a visa. However, halting immigration was a big part of the Leave campaign, so it’s unlikely things will stay as they are when we leave the EU. However, this also ties in closely with trade. At the moment goods can also be bought, sold and moved freely around Europe, as it’s part of something called the single market. While it is technically possible to be part of the single market without being part of the European Union, it does mean accepting a lot of EU laws – most likely the free movement of people.
Right, What Are The UK Saying About It?
This is a bit of a mixed bag. Currently, there are more than a million British people living in countries across Europe and several million from other EU countries living in London. A public survey back in July found the majority of the public was in support of keeping both freedom of movement and the single market, however, this is not reflected across the political spectrum. There isn’t much broad consensus, even across the political parties, with splits in both the Conservative and Labour Parties about both the single market and freedom of movement. Only the Liberal Democrats are firmly in the ‘staying in both camp’.
And The EU? What Do They Think?
Again, this is a bit of a messy area. The EU Commission’s mandate itself essentially says we can’t cherry pick – so no freedom of movement, no single market. This has been backed by voices around Europe, including by German PM Angela Merkel, Maltese Prime Minister Joseph Muscat and the President of the European Council Donald Tusk. It also chimes with the bloc telling Switzerland in similar talks there was no negotiation on this. The European Parliament’s spokesman Guy Verhofstadt has repeatedly said UK citizens should be able to keep their EU rights after Brexit as part of an opt-in scheme though, including the right to free travel. While several countries are part of the trade group without being EU members, they have all, to date, had to accept movement of people.
Where Have We Got So Far?
In July Number 10 seemingly confirmed freedom of movement would end as soon as we leave the block. However, this statement is at odds with earlier suggestions from the Prime Minister that there could be an “implementation” period. Later reports have also hinted this period could be anything up to four years, but a recently leaked document suggests it could stop immediately, with a focus instead on skilled migrants. Freedom of movement across Europe has been a right we’ve long held, but at the moment it isn’t at all clear if it’s one we’ll be keeping.