The noises that the new Prime Minister, Theresa May, and David Davis, the new Brexit Secretary, are making about Brexit are thus far encouraging. The Government’s consultation with the devolved administration shows that retaining access to the Single Market is very much on the table. The administrations in Scotland and Northern Ireland are anxious about Brexit, most notably about leaving the Single Market. So what kind of deal is the Government looking to strike?
As we know, the result on June 24th was incredibly close. Despite the fact that the Leave campaign won the referendum, it was hardly a landslide to the Leave slide. 48% of people still voted to remain in the European Union and many of those voters were keen to vote for Britain to stay in the European Union because they are concerned about Britain losing access to the Single. Yet as Ben Kelly has previously highlighted on this blog, there is a political precedent for opt outs on free movement which give encouraging signs that we may be able to achieve concessions.
The Remain campaign built their argument around the idea that the European Union would never allow Britain access to the Single Market whilst receiving concessions on being able to control immigration from within the European Union. Yet Lichtenstein has a quota based immigration system which proves that the EU can be more flexible on free movement if necessary.
Lichtenstein exempted itself from free movement via Article 112 of the European Economic Area Agreement. This article provides countries like Lichtenstein with an ‘emergency brake’ that allows European Free Trade Association countries to unilaterally impose safeguard measures. During December 1999, the European Economic Area Joint Committee allowed Lichtenstein to introduce a quota system that controlled the amount of workers entering the country. The rules for a quota system were reviewed in 2009 and 2015 by the European Economic Area Joint Committee and they agreed that Lichtenstein’s quota system should remain intact.
As it stands, Britain has to depend upon the European Commission to act on immigration and the response has proven to be totally inadequate. But with big business both in Britain and on the continent anxious about disruptions to trade, a compromise on free movement might allow an EEA based deal that which would allow for the orderly transition out of the EU that Britain needs during this unpredictable time.
David Davis has already hinted he wants Britain to have “access” to the Single Market and the concerns of the devolved administrations of Scotland and Northern Ireland are actively being consulted on the issue. He has also said that work is currently taking place on a plan that will re-establish Britain’s control over its borders once we leave the European Union. We may not be able achieve a bespoke free trade agreement in the short-term so an EEA based agreement with a compromise on free movement with the European Union may have to suffice for now. This would alleviate voters’ concerns from both sides of the debate and would ease the anxieties of Remain voters, while also easing the concerns of Scotland, Northern Ireland and Gibraltar.
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