UK: from free movement to Swiss model?

New research carried out by leading immigration expert professor Jonathan Portes shows it may be feasible for the UK to remain in the single market – temporarily or permanently – while changing the way free movement of people operates to provide greater control.

The research by professor Portes at King’s College London and senior fellow at The UK in a Changing Europe, finds a new system could be designed that preserves the principle that European Economic Area (EEA) citizens could move to the UK to look for, and take up, work while giving the UK public greater assurance that migration from the rest of the EEA was monitored and, where appropriate, controlled. 

 The introduction of a “Swiss-style” system of temporary and targeted regional and/or occupation specific controls might be feasible. This would not be an “emergency brake”, as originally proposed by David Cameron and more recently by Nick Clegg. It would enable a targeted, temporary and proportionate response to migration pressures.

 There would however be significant challenges: the EU would have to accept some “bespoke” modifications to the legal framework to accommodate the UK. And the UK would have to implement major administrative changes. 

 There would be inevitable trade-offs between increased burdens on business and individuals and the degree of extra “control” afforded by such a system.

 “The British government could negotiate an arrangement whereby it can modify the operation of free movement of persons in ways that might allow it to remain in the single market. The Government has not yet asked, so it cannot yet know what the outcome of such a negotiation might be” –  professor Jonathan Portes said.

 “The negotiability of such changes would depend on the political context and on political will both in the UK and in the EU27. But it should not be concluded ex ante that they are impossible.”

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