Restricting freedom of movement means stepping back into the past


Camilla Hillier-Fry

Partner of PeopleMatters and Secretary of EuroCitizens


London, February 1, 1915: The British Government introduce the requirement to have a photograph in passports, as a measure against enemy agents during the First World War. Until this date, people could move freely between the United Kingdom and other countries. A century later, the British government is trying to further restrict the movement of people, even though this time there are no “enemies on the coast”.


Michel Barnier, when speaking to the Economic and Social Committee of the European Union on 6 July, pointed out the fundamental differences between the British position and that of the European Union, the first being freedom of movement for citizens, rejected by the British government but inseparable from the movement of goods, capital and services for the European Union. The British exit from the single market and the customs union will have a disastrous impact on the economic activity of the country, not only in terms of trade tariffs but also because neither academic and professional qualifications nor quality certifications of products and services will be automatically approved.


Given this scenario, the CBI (the largest grouping of British companies) is asking the government to be realistic and to accept European regulations on freedom of movement, non-negotiation of trade agreements with countries outside the EU and the jurisdiction of the European Court Justice. Many British companies are calling for an indefinite delay in leaving the European Union. Organizations in the education, culture, science and research sectors have demanded that the government respect freedom of movement as the basis for the exchange of knowledge and ideas.


“Defending the rights of citizens today is not a priority for the British government”


However, despite the interests of companies and public entities, inextricably linked to the future of the country, the British government has been unwilling to negotiate. The British proposal does not respond to the previous proposal of the European Union, but on the contrary bases its approach on British legislation, which makes it difficult to compare specific aspects. Managing different parameters and terms in the negotiation only complicate the application of the criteria of reciprocity of which so much has been spoken. And if that were not enough, DExEU (the department for exiting the EU) says MEP Guy Verhofstadt has distorted the details of their offer.


Unlike the position of the European Union, which guarantees the majority of citizens’ rights, the British government defines the terms for permanent residence that need to be requested by each and every European citizen in the United Kingdom; residence will not be automatically granted to all members of the same family. This “settled status” (which means treating Europeans as settlers, a somewhat unfortunate comparison) will be less advantageous than the current status for Europeans who have been living in the UK for five years, and causes particular concern about the possibility (or not) of reuniting families. It could even be argued that it would entail a unilateral and retroactive change with respect to the rights to non-discriminatory treatment for Europeans who chose to build their life in the United Kingdom under the protection of European legislation. And the European Parliament firmly states that it will never accept the loss of these rights or that its citizens will be treated less favourably than they are at present.


The UK proposal recognizes “the possibility of permanence (of more than one million British citizens in the EU) and the continuity of their current lifestyle depends to a large extent on the agreement reached between the UK and the European Union”. Beyond this statement and the assumption of reciprocity – difficult to specify when the terms are not agreed – the British goverment’s proposal does not address the future situation of British citizens in the European Union in any detail. In view of the lack of clarity on this point and the classification of Europeans as “third-country” citizens, it seems we can only assume that defending citizens’ rights today is not a priority for the British government.


17/07/2017. © All rights reserved



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