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Brexit: May could control migration inside EU single market

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brexit poll
Anti-Brexit protestors in London.
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  • The government could stay within the single market — or
    retain close access — at the same time as limiting free
    movement, which allows citizens to move freely around
    Europe.
  • Immigration was a central force behind Brexit, but MPs
    say that safeguards and provisions within a Norway-style Brexit
    deal could be enough to place sufficient restrictions on
    immigration to satisfy the public.
  • Committee chair Yvette Cooper MP said “there has been
    no attempt by the Government to hold any kind of sensible
    debate on it or build any kind of consensus on immigration”
    since the 2016 referendum.

LONDON — Theresa May could keep Britain within the EU single
market after Brexit while still placing new controls on
immigration, according to a cross-party report by MPs.

The Home Affairs select committee found that if May backed down
on her Brexit “red lines” and sought a Norway-style arrangement
with close participation in the single market, a number of
measures to limit migration might still be possible.

Those include “emergency brake” provisions, controls on access to
the UK labour market, and further measures which build on the
ultimately failed negotiations carried out by former prime
minister David Cameron.

The proposals would likely enrage Leave-supporting MPs, who have
railed against May’s latest Brexit proposals because they would
keep the UK closely linked with Brussels.

The government has repeatedly pledged to end freedom of movement
after Brexit, the policy which allows EU citizens to live and
work freely across the continent without visa approval.

It was a central issue in the 2016 referendum campaign, and
the report acknowledged that two-thirds of British voters wish to
see immigration levels reduced.

But the report suggested that a bespoke deal could allow the UK
to retain free movement — and therefore full access to Europe’s
single market — and limit immigration at the same time.

Moving towards Norway?

If the UK sought membership of the European Free Trade
Association (EFTA) like Norway, for example, the UK could fall
back on the safeguard clause embedded in Articles 112 and 113 of
the EEA Agreement.

That provision allows for the application of an “emergency brake”
on free movement in circumstances of “serious
economic, societal or environmental difficulties of a sectoral or
regional nature.”

Both Lichtenstein and Switzerland are non-EU members which
operate forms of the emergency brake.

The report highlighted a number of other potential
policy proposals, including a “prior job offer”
system 
in which jobseekers did not have the right to
reside in the UK unless they already had an offer of employment,
or a “regional emergency brake” which would allow devolved
administrations to impose restrictions for a time-limited period,
based on economic data and demand for public services.

Any move to retain free movement — even with extensive controls —
would be very difficult for the current administration to push
through because it would face a revolt on two fronts. 

The EU has already made it explicitly clear that it perceives any
attempts to water down free movement as an attempt to divide the
“four freedoms,” which are central to the bloc’s founding
philosophy.

And Conservative Brexiteers are already deeply unhappy with May’s
proposals because they would see the UK aligned with some rules.
A deal which sought to keep the UK within the single market and
retained the jurisdiction of the European Court of Justice would
likely be rejected in parliament.

Yvette Cooper, chair of the committee, said it was time for the
government to have a “measured debate” on post-Brexit immigration
after the “misinformation and tensions” over the subject during
the referendum campaign in 2016.

“Immigration was one of the central issues during the referendum
and it divided the country, but sadly there has been no attempt
by the Government to hold any kind of sensible debate on it or
build any kind of consensus on immigration since,” Cooper said.

“That is deeply disappointing and it has left a vacuum – and it’s
really important that people don’t exploit that again.”

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