Note: This post is written in support of an open letter to MP’s concerning FoM, the Single Market and the economic impact of choosing one over the other.
A key discussion point in the period leading up to the referendum was Freedom of Movement (FoM or more properly Free Movement of People), the Single Market, and whether the UK could secure the former without the latter.
Due to the deliberate vagueness of the Leave campaign this point was never properly debated in the UK, though the rest of the EU countries have been absolutely clear that the 2 are inseparable. Unfortunately, even after the vote certain public figures are still trying to muddy the waters and pretend that we can get to some kind of deal with the EU. We will not, as apart from anything else, the EU countries see FoM, quite rightly, as a positive and not a negative and fundamental to the spirit of the EU.
Therefore it is clear now that the EU is extremely unlikely to grant the UK membership of the single market without freedom of movement. Discussions around “access”, “UK specific relationship” and other terms are meaningless, there is full membership or there is some severely restrictive free trade agreement that will damage UK export ability to a greater or lesser extent. “Access” is a particularly disingenuous statement, according to the IFS Access to the Single Market is a “virtually meaningless” phrase. They say:
Any country in the World Trade Organisation (WTO) – from Afghanistan to Zimbabwe – has ‘access’ to the EU as an export destination. Single Market ‘membership’ by contrast involves elimination of barriers to trade in a way that no existing trade deal, customs union or free trade area achieves.
Again, the EU have been absolutely consistent:
- German Finance Minister Wolfgang Schaeuble and his French counterpart Michel Sapin were dismissive of Johnson’s claims that FoM and the Single Market could be separated.
- Angela Merkel warned there could be no cherry picking to try to separate free movement.
- East European countries will veto any deal that undermines their citizen’s rights
At the moment the EU are so united that they won’t even talk to us regarding our exit settlement.
We must assume for the sake of the country that a red line on Freedom of Movement means loss of the single market, any other position has no basis in fact, no evidence to support it and is therefore any politician making such statements is being reckless and irresponsible. We may, by threatening to withdraw our defensive capability , by using EU nationals as bargaining chips or by threatening mutual economic destruction gain some concessions from our EU partners but these actions will only reduce our international standing still further and will certainly damage our ability to write new trade deals.
Economically however we only hold a significant trade deficit with 1 or 2 EU partners, we have little or no leverage with the other 25 and they must come to a unanimous decision. Even if we had allies in the EU, and we no longer do, that Veto alone will block any attempted separation of the Single Market and Freedom of Movement.