In Britain there has been a widespread delusion that we can be in, or have ‘full access to’ the EU Single Market while negotiating some sort of opt out from Freedom of Movement. In politics, as in life, it can be deadly to base your actions on wishful thinking.
People buy lottery tickets. But it is ruinous to quit your job and order a Ferrari on the assumption that you are going to win. It is even more dangerous in politics to base your policy on delusions. It can ruin the lives of millions. Yet this is exactly what has been happening in Britain.
It was this same delusion which David Cameron was peddling in the long referendum campaign. It is the reason why he is now spending more time with his memoirs. He said he would negotiate from a position of strength in Europe, with the referendum outcome of the referendum in the balance and Germany keen to keep Britain as an EU member. But he was unable to win any meaningful concession. No advocate of ‘negotiating’ away Freedom of Movement has ever explained how they will get a better deal, from a worse position, than David Cameron was able to achieve.
Once Article 50 is triggered the eventual deal with Britain has to be ratified by all remaining members. They will in effect be negotiating with each other on the terms of Brexit, not with Britain. Eastern European governments in particular are adamant that there can be no concessions on Freedom of Movement. They each have a veto.
Cameron failed because he ignored a key principle, that it is always important to understand the fundamental position of your negotiating partners. This has largely been ignored in the insular debate in Britain. Virtually all mainstream parties in Europe are committed to Freedom of Movement. This applies to left, right and centre on the political spectrum.
This is not because of ideology. It is because the European economy would grind to a halt with checks at every border crossing on every train and vehicle, and on the immigration status of the driver and her passengers. In the jargon, Freedom of Movement is one of the Four Pillars of the Single Market, enshrined in Treaty. If one of the ‘pillars’ falls so does the whole edifice of the Single Market. Practically it is fundamental to the prosperity of the European countries, including Britain.
Given Germany’s pre-eminence in Europe, Chancellor Merkel will be the ultimate arbiter of what the EU agrees to offer in terms of Brexit. She recently told the German equivalent of the CBI that, “If we don’t insist that full access to the single market is tied to complete acceptance of the four basic freedoms, then a process will spread across Europe whereby everyone does and allowed what they want.”
We know that that this is not playing to gallery or an early negotiating stance because this has been the policy implemented in relation to countries such as Norway and Switzerland. Norway is in the European Economic Area, which means it accepts all the rules, large and small of the Single Market in order to have access to it. Switzerland held its own referendum to restrict Freedom of Movement which was duly passed. But the EU has insisted that this is not implemented, and Switzerland has had to comply simply in order to get the limited but highly lucrative ‘passporting’ of its insurers.
Freedom of Movement is integral to the working of the Single Market. The Norwegian, Swiss and British governments have all tried and failed to separate Freedom of Movement from the Single Market. They all failed. The EU is not intransigent. It simply cannot offer what is demanded without destroying the Single Market. If Britain wants the Single Market, which is currently vital to our prosperity, it will have to drop the delusion that it can negotiate away Freedom of Movement.
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