If it were up to me, I would keep freedom of movement (FoM) for people from the European Economic Area (EEA) after Brexit. Not just for a transitional period, but indefinitely. I supported Brexit, but I did so in the hope that it would deliver a Swiss-style arrangement, which would keep Britain close to the Single Market, and which would preserve the Four Freedoms.

FoM has been a huge success story. EEA migrants in the UK are, in aggregate terms, fiscal net contributors. They pay more in (direct and indirect) taxes than they take out in the form of cash benefits (e.g. Child Tax Credit), benefits in kind (e.g. social housing) and the use of public services (e.g. the NHS). More specifically, the fiscal net contribution of the average EEA migrant is about £2,300 higher, per annum, than the fiscal net contribution of the average UK-born adult. Just as importantly, EEA migrants also tend to integrate easily and effortlessly.

The best aspect of FoM, however, is that it is a low-maintenance system, characterised by remarkably low administrative costs and a high degree of legal certainty. The system is virtually bureaucracy-free, hassle-free, paperwork-free and risk-free – not just for EEA nationals themselves, but also for their employers, landlords, councils, banks, healthcare providers etc. Sure, it is theoretically imaginable that a system of controlled migration would achieve even better outcomes – but that would make the perfect the enemy of the good. Any such hypothetical improvements must be weighed against the loss of simplicity, cost-effectiveness and legal certainty that ending FoM would necessarily entail.

There are some problems, but they could be addressed within the current FoM rules. Some EU countries enforce the conditions of FoM much more rigorously than Britain does, for example by expelling foreign EU nationals who come to claim benefits rather than working or studying.

In short: three cheers for free movement.

That said, I accept that the pro-FoM side has lost that argument. I accept that that ship has sailed, and that FoM in its current form will not survive the post-Brexit transition period.

But this does not mean that all is lost. As I show in my new IEA paper Immigration: Picking the low-hanging fruits, some aspects of free movement are popular. They can be saved – and they are worth saving.

For a start, there are a number of surveys which ask people which countries they would accept more (or at least the current numbers of) immigrants from, and from which countries they would rather have fewer immigrants. For European countries, those surveys show a huge East-West gap. Very few people want to make it harder for Western Europeans to come here. But there is overwhelming support for reducing immigration from the poorest Eastern European countries (e.g. Romania), with the more prosperous Eastern European countries (e.g. Poland) falling somewhere in between.

Before the EU’s enlargement in 2004 and 2007, free movement was never controversial in Britain. So why not go back to the pre-2004 status quo ante, and keep FoM for citizens of the old member states (the EU-14) and the EFTA countries?

For those countries, FoM delivers pretty much the same outcomes that a highly selective points-based system would also deliver. At the moment, there is nothing that could stop unskilled people from, for example, Denmark or Switzerland from moving to the UK in large numbers, but in practice, this does not happen. Two-thirds of Western Europeans living in the UK have tertiary education. They are more likely to be in work than their UK-born counterparts, they earn more on average and they are less likely to live in social housing.

For citizens of those countries, FoM should be retained. You can call that “passport discrimination”, if you like. I’d call it a fast lane, which makes immigration easier and less bureaucratic for some, without making it harder for anyone else.


The post The case for keeping freedom of movement with the pre-2005 EU and EFTA nations appeared first on BrexitCentral.

Sentiment about a Brexit deal fluctuates wildly almost by the hour. Whatever the current state of speculation, we surely have to prepare ourselves for what happens if Chequers falls over.

I know this is anathema to many Brexiteers. But my personal view is that while No Deal would likely be fine in the long run, in the short term it would be an embarrassing economic fiasco. The consumer story from hell. It would be to Brexit what Gerald Ratner was to cut-price jewellery.

Instead of going down that risky route, I want to ask BrexitCentral readers to consider falling back on the UK’s membership of the European Economic Area. This is the so-called “Norway then Canada” or “Norway for Now” strategy advocated by myself, Nick Boles MP and others.

Please hear me out. It is quite possible that neither Chequers, nor “No Deal” nor trading on World Trade Organisation terms, nor a second referendum will pass in Parliament. In which case, the European Economic Area will be the only thing left on the table. Should we not seize it?

Far from reducing Britain to a “fax democracy”, where we have to pay huge sums into the EU and yet have no say over the rules and regulations passed in Brussels, the EEA is a commercial treaty between sovereign nations and could be a good resting point, outside the EU, the Common Agricultural Policy, the Common Fisheries Policy and the jurisdiction of the European Court of Justice – but with useful legal and economic options. We would effectively be members of the Single Market, but with sovereign protections.

George Yarrow, the Oxford professor who is the intellectual godfather of the strategy, also estimates that our payments to the EU – which would be limited to participating in relevant programmes – would fall from around £9.5bn to £1.5bn.

What is more, we are already contracting parties to the EEA. It is not true, as some have asserted, that we are leaving by virtue of having given notice under Article 50 to leave the EU. The EEA is a separate treaty, which we have signed on our own right, and has its own withdrawal arrangements. If we want to make the EEA treaty operative, all we have to do is to apply to the related European Free Trade Association (EFTA). This is the other “governance pillar” to the EEA.

There is not much the EU could do to stop us exercising our treaty rights without falling foul of a higher law, the 1969 Vienna Convention on the Law of Treaties. Don’t take my word for it. Take the word of Sir Richard Aikens, a former appeal court judge, on the Briefings for Brexit website. If the EU cut up rough, we could take them to the International Court of Justice (ICJ).

As for the infamous Irish backstop, the EEA would put in place the legal structure to make the technical border solution suggested by David Davis work. As we would be members of the Single Market, it would anyway be unnecessary.

On any measure, the EEA is also superior to the proposed transition arrangements. Inside the EEA we would have decision-shaping rights, and also the right to adapt and veto new legislation. We would, anyway, only be in the Single Market which accounts for just 28% of EU legislation.

If, while in the EEA, there was a dispute with the EU, it would be adjudicated by the EFTA Court, on which we would have two out of five judges. Contrary to myth, it is not bound by the ECJ. They do have to develop a homogenous area of law together but frequently the EFTA Court has disagreed with the ECJ.

Nor is it true that we would not be able to control freedom of movement. The EEA Treaty focuses in freedom of movement of workers and includes various measures to impose limits and restrictions, including an emergency break (as used by Liechtenstein). There is no common citizenship and British passports would be back.

Let’s be honest. It isn’t perfect. And it seems to me the biggest risk, which some Brexiteers have already pointed out, is we get stuck. Like Income Tax (introduced temporarily in 1798, it remains with us) the EEA might perpetuate itself. Some have called for a hard legislative commitment to leave before 2021.

However, I would contend that is a glass half empty way of looking at the EEA treaty. The exit mechanism, giving one year’s notice under Article 127, is much more permissive than the Article 50 process. Rather than put a hard stop on our departure date, which creates another cliff edge against UK interests and upsets the Norwegians, we should commit to a review and a break clause to be voted on by Parliament. If it did not work, we could leave to join a Canada-style free trade agreement. And in the meantime it might evolve into a congenial home for us.

The question to which the EEA is the answer is clear. So let me repeat it. What happens if Chequers falls over and the other options are blocked too? It is hard to see any other realistic, legally deliverable alternative. I urge Brexiteers not to rule it out.

The post The ‘Norway for now’ option is far from perfect, but Brexiteers should consider its merits appeared first on BrexitCentral.

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