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What does Brexit Minister David Davis think about free movement?


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Conveniently, David Davis MP, our new Minister for Brexit, made a detailed speech and wrote a detailed article on the subject of free movement and negotiations with the EU. From these we can see quite quickly that he does not like free movement. Of people, anyway. Towards the UK, anyway. He probably loves free movement of Brits to other countries and free movement of goods, services and capital.

Back in February 2016 Davis set out his views at length in a speech to the Institute of Chartered engineers. It is reproduced in full on his website (if it disappears let me know, I’ve got a copy).

He is dismissive of the Norwegian and Swiss settlements with the EU. Very dismissive:

Some people have suggested that we should look to Norway, or to Switzerland, to see what terms we can expect once we have left.

The idea that we have to fit our future into some Procrustean bed created for far smaller countries is nonsense.

He goes on, though, to suggest that the Norwegian model is not as bad as some people make out but that it would not be possible to create a simialr structure within the two year negotiating period. He turns to the Swiss model instead:

The Swiss option, EFTA membership plus a host of bilateral treaties, is the best starting place and is informative in many ways.

It is not perfect for us however. It incorporates ‘free movement of people’ for the moment, although there is a clash coming on that, after a Swiss referendum was carried in favour of applying an emergency brake – a real one this time!

Finally, rather confusingly, he seems to accept that it would not be possible to negotiate anything similar without accepting free movement:

The optimum aim for us would be similar, but without the free movement of peoples. That would not be on the table. Essentially we would be looking for a full scale free trade agreement. And it has just been done by another country.

And that country is… Canada! So it looks like his natural preference is something like reduced trade tariffs with no free movement.

He does not directly mention the subject of free movement of people in an article published on the ConservativeHome website on 11 July 2016, after the Brexit vote. He suggests waiting perhaps until early next year to trigger Article 50. He then refers to borders:

This leaves the question of Single Market access.  The ideal outcome, (and in my view the most likely, after a lot of wrangling) is continued tariff-free access.  Once the European nations realise that we are not going to budge on control of our borders, they will want to talk, in their own interest.  There may be some complexities about rules of origin and narrowly-based regulatory compliance for exports into the EU, but that is all manageable.

Tariff free access with no free movement is his aim, if the EU will agree to it.

He is also reported to have spoken to Theresa May during the (oh so brief) Conservative Party leadership election. May assured Davis that she will sacrifice jobs and economic prosperity for reducing immigration:

He considers that a Good Thing, I should point out in case you were unsure.

David Davis does not alone set Government policy, of course, but it is likely that he will be a significant influence. Perhaps more importantly, the UK Government does not unilaterally decide a multilateral deal. Tariff free access may not be on the table. If not and if the cost of exporting to the EU increases significantly, the UK is going to haemorrage a lot of manufacturers and jobs. Where will they go? The EU. Not such a bad result for the EU, you might think.

Another way of looking at this is that, politically, the only way that the Leave press and voters would accept that free movement is necessary is if one of their own were to present that reality to them.

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Colin Yeo

Immigration and asylum barrister, blogger, writer and consultant at Garden Court Chambers in London and founder of the Free Movement immigration law website.