New Migration Realities

Reform or reject?

7 March 2017

Freedom of Movement and the Single Market

Policy Network

Following the EU referendum on 23 June 2016, Theresa May’s government has committed itself to ending free movement as it presently operates as a priority over post-Brexit trade policy. In the prime minister’s Lancaster House speech and subsequent white paper, she committed to leaving the single market and customs union in order to introduce new controls on EU migration to the UK. Only with great political difficulty could the government shift in its commitment to introduce such national controls in the negotiations for UK withdrawal from the EU. Given the formal commitments to be completely outside the jurisdiction of the European court of justice in March 2019, it would even be problematic for the May government to postpone or phase the implementation of new migration controls during any transitional period designed to minimise the likely economic impact of leaving the EU. Opposition parties who accept the result of the referendum face similar political challenges, albeit with differing degrees of political pressure.

Our view is that, the best possible post-Brexit arrangement would be one that maintained Britain’s continued full participation within the single market. This paper explores what reforms to free movement might be achievable without compromising that overriding objective, and what alternative policy choices could be open for the UK.

The paper first considers how the question of free movement will be affected by the likely evolution of the government’s overall negotiating stance on Brexit. It then takes a brief look at the issue of migration in the UK and what measures might be desirable to improve the management of migration in the national interest, regardless of Brexit. Next it examines the politics of free movement within other EU member states and how the UK could maximise the chances of securing reform. It then considers what options might be negotiable in Brussels. Finally, it looks at how domestic changes in policy might reduce the salience of the migration question in UK politics.

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