Would Leave-voters accept this compromise on freedom of movement?

I think most Leave voters now accept that leaving the European Union will hurt the UK economy. But a lot of people still feel that’s a price worth paying to regain control of immigration.

Brussels insists that freedom of movement is required if we’re to stay in the Single Market, but there may be some wiggle-room regarding exactly what “freedom of movement” means for us.

Suppose David Davis were able to negotiate a compromise along the following lines: would Leave-voters accept it if it meant we could remain in the Single Market and the Customs Union?

  • Freedom of movement to be limited to people who come to the UK in order to work.
  • It would only apply to people who have an offer of a specific job.
  • Employment offers to be made in such a way as to avoid serious threats to the UK’s standard of living and level of employment.
  • Freedom of movement to be subject to limitations on the grounds of public security — e.g. preventing suspected terrorists from entering the UK.
  • It would also be subject to limitations on the grounds of public health.
  • Non-UK Europeans working in the UK would be subject to the same provisions governing employment as UK nationals.

How does this read to Leave-voters? Would you be happy to remain in the Single Market under the terms of such a compromise?


16 responses to “Would Leave-voters accept this compromise on freedom of movement?

  1. Is this a trick question?

    I’m guessing that it’s the interpretation of #3 that is the most contentious point, since it depends upon what “serious” is interpreted to mean. Some people would say that any non-UK European coming here to work poses a “serious” threat; I reserve the right to think that those people are idiots.

  2. The problem with point #3 is that at the individual level employment is a zero-sum game (someone coming from outside the UK to take a job that isn’t highly specialised more or less by definition takes that job opportunity away from a UK person) but at the aggregate level it isn’t (immigration produces growth in the economy). So the wording or conditions of individual job offers are mostly irrelevant to national-level measures.

  3. Speaking as a Leave voter, those all sound fine to me and I hope something like that is part of the eventual arrangement we have with the EU.

    However, we still have to leave the single market, because staying in the single market means remaining under the jurisdiction of the ECJ, and if we do that, then we haven’t really left the EU at all, have we?

    That — jurisdiction of the ECJ — is the real problem with remaining in the single market, not freedom of movement of labour, which is a good thing and we should hope to maximise (with both EU and non-EU countries!) after we leave the EU.

  4. (Ideally, on the very day we leave the EU, we will join the ETFA).

  5. That is an interestingly different take, H: for pretty much every leaver I know, immigration in general and Freedom of Movement in particular has been the issue. ECJ jurisdiction scarcely registers for the people I’ve talked with. What specific ECJ rulings or procedures do you dislike?

  6. It’s not about specific rulings or procedures, it’s about the principle that laws for the UK should be made in the UK and adjudicated in the final instance by the UK supreme court. Which was actually the top reason given for voting Leave (control over immigration was second), so you must know an unrepresentative sample of leavers.

    You know how C.S. Lewis said he couldn’t be a Catholic not because of any specific doctrine, but because being a Catholic would require him to accept the authority of the Pope and therefore any doctrine which the magisterium might in future teach? A bit like that. the point isn’t what decisions are made, it’s who has the authority to make decisions and who is the final court of appeal.

  7. The Lewis analogy is good. (And close to my heart. Either you’ve done your research on how to persuade me, or you just threw six sixes!)

    But why, for someone living in Manchester of Liverpool, would ultimate jurisdiction from a court in Brussels be much worse, or indeed much different, from a court in London?

  8. I’ve read you mention Lewis, so I thought you might recognise the analogy. I’ve used it before, but usually have to explain it more.

    The difference is that the court in Brussels is a foreign court, with foreign judges sitting on it; the court in London is a British court.

    Fundamentally, the reason Britain was always going to leave the EU — if not now, then in the coming decade, at most — is that the EU is set up, fundamentally, to become a single country composed of semi-autonomous states, a bit like the United States of America, with a central government which devolves power to the regions, like France, Germany, the UK, etc. That’s always been the aim. And, indeed, the current set-up of the EU, and especially the Eurozone is fundamentally unstable and lurches from crisis to crisis; it will have to either integrate far more tightly, with a shared budget, shared finance minister, etc etc, or it will disintegrate (if Britain hadn’t voted to leave the EU, then when this integration finally happened, Britain would effectively have been removed from the core of the EU anyway and become part of an ‘outer tier’, similar to how the EFTA is now).

    In that context the ECJ makes sense, by analogy with the Supreme Court of the United States, which can overrule the individual state governments. But that only makes sense because people in, say, Sacramento and Springfield all think of themselves as fundamental one people: though they may come from Arizona or Arkansas, New Mexico or New Jersey, California or a Carolina, they all think of themselves as Americans.

    However, the UK doesn’t want to be part of such a single country with the continent. For as long as there have been polls on the subject they have shown that the vast majority of the UK population doesn’t think of themselves as European; the vast majority has wanted either to leave the EU or to have its powers rolled, back, with the next biggest group thinking it should stay as it is and only a tiny, tiny minority (about as many as vote Liberal Democrat now, perhaps not un-coincidentally) thinking that it should have its powers increased.

    A random citizen of Oklahoma in the Republican Bible Belt, for example, probably disagrees with a random citizen of Democratic New York on almost everything; but they would not see the New Yorker as a foreigner. A random citizen of the UK, on the other hand, would probably agree with a random German about an awful lot; but they would see the German as a foreigner. The Brit sees the German as friendly neighbour, rather than a member of the same family; whereas the red stater sees the blue stater as someone they can’t stand but they are still linked to by the familial bond. Like a hated cousin.

    What the UK [the majority of the UK, anyway] wants is to be part of a trading union, not a political union; a single market, not a single government. That’s what the EFTA is: the EFTA’s court, for example, is entirely concerned with trade disputes and regulatory enforcement, not with, say, adjudicating on labour laws or anything covered by social chapters of charters of rights.

    The EFTA is where the UK should always have been, really. Now the challenge is to get there as smoothly as possible.

  9. @H: I fundamentally agree with almost everything you have written here whilst completely disagreeing with your conclusions.
    For starters, you skip over the notion that within our existing nation states we too have the same “familial bonds” that cause tensions. You mention devolving power to the regions, which is exactly what we are struggling our way towards here – both with our (reluctant but eventual) acceptance of the concept of devolution and even the idea of the “northern powerhouse”.
    I seriously entertained the notion that, should Scotland vote for independence, I would join the London Independence Party the next day (I live and work in London.) Not because I think London should be “independent”, but because I think that London is pretty much single-handedly responsible for the state we are in. Frankly, I think the EU isn’t even in the contest, much as the rabid Europhobes would like to make out that it is the root of all evil.
    I am aware that I am in a minority in thinking that “subsidiarity” has always been the correct solution – that there are some things that are best handled at a continental level, but many things are also better handled at a more regional level than the large nation state is suited to (property taxes for instance.) And the current EU has certainly lost sight of that too.

    At the moment, I honestly think that it may be that the UK actually has the worst of all worlds – too small to be able to have influence, but too big to be able to recognise that. And blaming someone else for our own problems is not really a solution.
    (And it’s because I am a Londoner, an Englishman, a Briton and a European, and I am proud to be all of them, that I feel all of these conflicting tensions within myself.)

    I realise this isn’t really addressing whether or not we should have just been a part of EFTA from the start (although I think you can guess my feeling about that.) I certainly don’t think that this would be a bad destination (certainly compared to almost any of the alternatives that don’t involve remaining part of the EU), I just feel that it is also an acceptance of failure, that’s all.

  10. I just feel that it is also an acceptance of failure

    Failure at what, though? To fail you must have a goal, and try to but be unable to reach it.

    If the goal is, ‘to create a single country out of the continent of Europe’, then the UK can’t really have failed because we have never thought that was a good goal at all and hence have never really tried to reach it.

    I would say that ‘failure’ was to give up on being a sovereign independent nation, because we’re afraid of being too small and too weak to be able to compete in the world on our own. That would be abject failure.

  11. I feel that you have ignored pretty much the entire thrust of my argument, which is that the notion of “a single country out of the continent of Europe” is a dumb idea; we can’t even manage to make a single country out of the United Kingdom – indeed, part of my argument is that we are struggling to manage it in just England at the moment, let alone the other component parts!
    In other words, I’m taking the position that clinging to the outdated notion of being a single sovereign nation is extremely bad for our long-term health; we need to shake things up far more radically than that. That doesn’t mean that I think the EU is the magic solution, although – to adapt that old Churchill joke, it may be better than all the other solutions that have been tried. But that may be because we haven’t really tried many other solutions, owing to the snag that people who seek power prefer to have the checks and balances removed rather than strengthened.

    I guess my point is that I even disagree with the notion that failure requires one to at least try to reach a goal; sometimes we decide not to even bother trying, which pretty much guarantees a failure!

  12. I do agree with Scurra. I feel British. But I also feel English, and I also feel European. (For that matter, I also feel like a Forester, living as I do in the Forest of Dean; and for, that matter, like a Citizen of the World.) One of the things I wanted to do when the Brexit vote came in was to buy three flags — English, British and European — and fly them all together from the front of our house.

    I lament that Brexit forces us to choose one and only one of those affiliations. In fact, it doesn’t even do that, it chooses one of them for us. It means that, while I remain British, I can’t be European any more. That hurts emotionally, in much the same way that it would if suddenly I couldn’t be British any more.

    Since I feel my identity is tied in with all five of these levels (Forest, England, Britain, Europe, the World), it doesn’t much matter to me which of levels has jurisdiction over various laws. I don’t resent the fact that I am subject to international law — the Geneva Convention and all — any more than I resent being subject to UK traffic regulations. So for me, there is no reason to object to the ECJ or the ECHR.

    And while I understand H’s objection, I can’t persuade myself that it quite makes sense.

  13. I feel that you have ignored pretty much the entire thrust of my argument, which is that the notion of “a single country out of the continent of Europe” is a dumb idea

    I thought that was my argument? Trying to make a single country out of France, Germany, Italy, Spain, Portugal, Poland, Hungary, and all the rest is a stupid idea, even without adding the UK which traditionally has stood apart from mainland Europe; so the EU, which was founded and continues in the ambition of making such a single country, is a stupid idea and so we would have had to leave sooner or later as it pursued ‘ever-closer union’ beyond the point that the UK could accept.

    In other words, I’m taking the position that clinging to the outdated notion of being a single sovereign nation is extremely bad for our long-term health

    Yes, I understand what you are saying; I just disagree. You’re not one of these people who thinks that nobody who thinks your position is so self-evidently correct that nobody who truly understands it could possibly fail to agree with you, are you?

    I feel British. But I also feel English, and I also feel European.

    That is fine, but you do understand that the great majority of the British population does not feel that way? You are an outlier.

    It means that, while I remain British, I can’t be European any more

    Only if you equate being ‘European’ with being in the EU. Are the Swiss not European?

  14. I think that – as ever – misunderstanding is too easy in the restrictive environment of blog comment sections. I thought you were extremely clear in suggesting that “making a single country out of Europe” was a dumb idea; what confused me was that I thought I’d made it clear that I thought that too! But (and forgive me if I am misunderstanding) you seem to be arguing that there are only two alternatives: the single nation state of the UK and the single nation state of Europe (the “Brexit position”, according to some Leave campaigns, at least.). I was merely suggesting that there might be other options – and I am distinctly unconvinced that the single nation state of Europe is even one that is on the table; are you saying that the term “ever-closer union” can only mean that? In which case, I will respectfully disagree with you, as otherwise something like e.g. Scottish devolution must surely mean that the concept of the United Kingdom no longer exists, as it’s the very opposite of “ever-closer union.” Isn’t it?

    I am not sure why the feelings of the great majority of the rest of the British population should have anything to do with my own (or Mike’s) position though? Are you suggesting that I should just keep quiet and stop rocking the boat? :-)

  15. As a point of information, there is no move to create a single country out of Europe, and there never has been. It’s not what the phrase “ever closer union” means. This is a bogey-man often brought up by Brexiters — whether because they think it rhetorically strengthens their position, or out of honest ignorance, I couldn’t say.

  16. In which case, I will respectfully disagree with you, as otherwise something like e.g. Scottish devolution must surely mean that the concept of the United Kingdom no longer exists, as it’s the very opposite of “ever-closer union.”

    I have always been opposed to devolution, on the grounds that, while intended to spike the guns of the nationalists, it actually gave them a power-base from which to agitate for the destruction of the union; I think events up to the 2014 referendum proved me right, and that devolution was a bad idea. Does that answer your question?

    Are you suggesting that I should just keep quiet and stop rocking the boat?

    No no. Keep agitating for what you think is right; I would be disappointed if you did less. I am just explaining why it is you might find yourself on the losing side.

    (I say ‘might’ as it seems increasingly possible that the Remainers might be victorious, at least temporarily, in their efforts to thwart the decision reached last year to leave the EU.)

    As a point of information, there is no move to create a single country out of Europe, and there never has been

    I don’t believe you. Why else push for a single currency, for a flag, for an anthem, for a common foreign policy?

    And anecdotally, my own Leave vote was decided — I was vacillating — when I talked with a Liberal Democrat friend and said, ‘Would you really be happy for Britain to become a state of a united Europe, like Maine or somewhere, administering its own affairs, but with other decisions, like foreign policy, taken by some communal body like the federal government in the USA>’ and he said, ‘Well, with its economy, the UK would be more like California than Maine, but otherwise, yes, that would be a good situation’.

    So there are people who would like a federal Europe — I’ve met at least one of them — and in order to make absolutely sure they do not get their way we have to leave the EU. For as long as we are members of the EU there is the possibility that we might end up in such a federal union — it’s scary how close we came to losing the pound when Blair was in power. If Brown hadn’t been so implacably opposed to anything Blair was in favour of, we might be using euros now. We must ensure such a situation never happens again, and the only way to do that is to leave the EU.

    [You might claim that the EU Act 2011 provides that reassurance, because it guarantees a referendum on any treaty which cedes powers to the EU. But it’s not clear, for example, that that would be triggered by joining the euro — it’s possible that a future government might join the euro without a referendum. to prevent the possibility of that happening, we must leave the EU.]

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