In recent months Its understood that the European Union has been considering plans that will grant UK immigration exemption from freedom of movement rules for up to seven years. Meanwhile, EU member states are reviewing proposals that will give the UK continued access to the single market. Both plans could form part of a potential Brexit deal.
During talks, newly installed UK Prime Minister, Theresa May, faced strong resistance from French President François Hollande over the idea of an ‘emergency brake on the free movement of people’, which Hollande considers to be ‘a step beyond the deal that former UK Prime Minister, David Cameron negotiated prior to the Brexit referendum. However, the EU has said it will assess the plans.
Ramifications of an ‘emergency brake’ on freedom of movement
According to diplomats, if a deal were to be agreed within the confines of a strict time limit, it would ‘go a long way towards appeasing the concerns of the British public concerning immigration to the UK from EU member states, while granting continued full trade access to the European market.
Any potential deal of this magnitude is likely to cause controversy across some EU member states, most notably in France, Poland and several central and eastern European nations. However, the benefit is that it would reduce the shock to the EU economy, post-Brexit, by allowing Britain access to the single market. Equally, it will limit the political damage caused to the European project that would stem from a complete split.
According to an article published on MSN.com, high-ranking UK officials said that: “While it is ‘very early days’, some form of extended emergency brake was ‘certainly one of the ideas now on the table’.”
UK continuing contribution to the EU Budget
However, it’s understood that any agreement struck would require the UK to ‘substantially contribute’ to the EU budget, albeit at a lower rate. Furthermore, the UK would have no leverage at the negotiating table when rules concerning the single market are determined, as it would no longer hold full membership status with the EU.
Throughout the referendum campaign, the leave camp, spearheaded by new foreign secretary, Boris Johnson, along with Michael Gove, claimed that the UK would save £350 million a week in EU contributions as a result of an EU exit and leaving the single market. They suggested that the money could be spent on the National Health Service (NHS).
However, it later emerged that the £350 million figure had been ‘exaggerated’. Additionally, during a recent visit to United Nations Headquarters in New York, it appeared that Johnson had changed his stance on exiting the single market.
Instead, he suggested that a deal could be agreed that would maintain the UK’s access to the single market, while establishing new freedom of movement rules for workers arriving in Britain from EU member states.
In a statement, Johnson said: “I’ve absolutely no doubt that a balance can be struck, and over the next few weeks we’ll be discussing that in the government and with our European friends and partners.”
“Everybody wishes to make fast progress in the economic interests both of Britain and of the European Union. I think there is very much a deal there to be done, and the faster we can get it done the better,” Johnson added.
EU should keep UK in the single market
Sources close to the negotiations say that EU diplomats and advisers are urging the EU to try and keep the UK in the single market, while not handing them such an attractive deal that could see other member states follow suit and leave the EU.
Nathalie Tocci, who is a special adviser to Federica Mogherini, recently spoke in her capacity as deputy director of the Rome-based Institute for International Affairs, saying: “I believe that the Italian government would back an emergency brake as a way to keep the UK in the single market.”
Tocci went on to state that any emergency brake would have to be strictly time limited to prevent the violation of EU treaties. However, Tocci did say that she sees “no reason why it could not last, say, between seven and 10 years. This was how long temporary derogations lasted after the 2004 enlargement, which the UK chose not to benefit from.”
Hans van Baalen, the Dutch MEP and president of the Liberal group in the European parliament, who is also a member of the same party as Mark Rutte, the Dutch Prime Minister, said that the plan should be progressed.
However, van Baalen said that the UK would need to offer ‘solid reassurances’ concerning the rights of EU citizens currently living and working in Britain to stay in the country. He said: “If the rights of EU citizens now living in the UK can be guaranteed permanently by the UK government, then I think we can look at some form of emergency brake on free movement of labour.”
“This could be invoked when the British labour market is under particular pressure. I would try to limit it to the UK at this stage. It is difficult to talk in too much detail as this will take a long time to negotiate. But given the difficulties we face, we must try to be flexible. It is vital that we have the UK in the single market as much as possible for the UK economy and for the economies of all EU member states,” van Baalen added.
Renegotiating the terms of Britain’s EU membership
When attempting to renegotiate the terms of the UK’s EU membership prior to the referendum, former Prime Minister, David Cameron, did secure a restricted ‘emergency brake’ deal. The agreement would have allowed Britain to limit and ‘phase in’ access to in-work benefits for EU migrants after four years since arriving in the UK.
While the deal would have enabled Britain to apply an emergency brake for an initial seven years, the EU has since withdrawn the agreement following the Brexit result. Current European Economic Area (EEA) legislation, which applies to EU member states plus non-EU members like Norway, which has access to the single market, already has an option to apply ‘safeguard measures’, according to the MSN article.
These ‘safeguard measures’ can be initiated in the event of “serious economic, societal or environmental difficulties of a sectorial or regional nature liable to persist”. In theory, Norway could apply restrictions on the free movement of people from the EU. However, it’s never invoked the clause for fear of reprisals from EU member nations, according to diplomats.