Britain could remain in the single market by offering to “modify” rather than completely abandon free movement rights, a report suggests.
It says 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 also giving the public greater assurance that migration from Europe was monitored and, where appropriate, controlled.
The paper argues that the debate should not assume that the choice is simply between free movement exactly as now, and exclusion from the single market.
Report author Jonathan Portes, a professor of economics and public policy at King’s College London and senior fellow at The UK in a Changing Europe, said: “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.
“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.”
The study examines whether it would be possible to modify the operation of free movement of people between the UK and the EEA in ways that would allow the UK to remain in the single market after Brexit, either temporarily or permanently.
It concludes that such changes are “practical and feasible”, and floats a number of options.
Possible models include a “Swiss-style” system of temporary and targeted controls tied to regions and/or specific occupations.
The report acknowledges that there would be significant challenges.
It says: “The EU would have to accept some modifications to the legal framework, the UK would have to implement major administrative and systems changes, and there would be inevitable tradeoffs between increased burdens on business and individuals and the degree of extra ‘control’ afforded by such system.”
Government officials are working to draw up post-Brexit arrangements which incorporate an end to free movement rules, while ensuring that any fall in overseas labour does not damage the economy.
Plans for the future immigration system are expected to be unveiled later this year.
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