The Brexit White Paper and the Movement of People – a new “Framework for mobility”

25.07.18

On 12 July 2018, the UK Government published its long-awaited White Paper on “The Future Relationship between the United Kingdom and the European Union”. The foreword from the new Secretary of State for Exiting the EU Dominic Raab describes it as “a vision that respects the result of the referendum and delivers a principled and practical Brexit.” 


The paper is intended as a blueprint for further negotiations with Brussels and contained some surprises, but not regarding free movement of people: the key principle there being that Brexit would end the free movement of people to “control and reduce net migration”.  Here, we outline some of the key points on the movement of people set out in the White Paper.


Background: free movement of people


At the moment, EU citizens (UK and other EU nationalities) can move freely between the UK and the rest of the EU. The four freedoms of the European single market provide for free and frictionless movement within the EU.  The free movement of people is a founding principle of European integration and inexorably linked to EU citizenship. As a result it will be lost to UK citizens after Brexit. It will also be lost to EU citizens with regards to the UK; free movement into the UK will be a thing of the past. 


Citizens’ rights during the transition period


The UK and the EU have already reached an in-principle agreement on citizens’ rights to provide certainty for EU citizens living in the UK, and UK citizens living in the EU, before and until the end of the expected transition or implementation period. This agreement would see individuals and their family members able to move, live and work on the same basis as they can now, up until 31 December 2020.


The 2021+ future: “framework for mobility”


The White Paper sets out the UK Government’s vision of the 2021 future: a new “framework for mobility” is intended to regulate UK-EU migration while making sure that the UK remains “an open and tolerant nation” and attracts “the brightest and best, from the EU and elsewhere.” It hopes to achieve this via “reciprocal mobility arrangements with the EU” in a defined number of areas. These arrangements would build on and significantly enhance existing Free Trade Agreement models on the mobility of people for the provision of services. The UK Government proposes future reciprocal arrangements with the EU not only in that area, but also for the purposes of employees moving within cross-border businesses, visa-free travel for tourism and temporary business activity, and facilitated mobility for students and young people. The paper also envisages agreement in related areas such as the continued validity of the European Health Insurance Card (EHIC), social security coordination, and potentially the mutual recognition of professional qualifications.


The White Paper also contains proposals on more technical matters; streamlined border arrangements and administrative procedures to ensure “smooth passage” at borders and minimise administrative burdens for UK and EU citizens seeking permission to travel, enter or reside in each other’s territories. Streamlined arrangements are seen as particularly important at the Gibraltar-Spain border, which thousands of people cross every day.


The Common Travel Area between the UK, the Crown Dependencies (including Gibraltar) and Ireland is unaffected by these proposals, meaning Irish citizens would retain their special status in the UK (and vice versa). 


One aspect of the proposals that may need unpacking in due course, in terms of what it would mean in practice, is the suggestion that “the principle of non-discrimination between existing Member States” should apply to the envisaged mobility framework. For example, could this potentially mean that EU citizens would (at least) have ‘most favoured’ status, meaning that the UK could not introduce less restrictive immigration arrangements for the citizens of any other country without also extending them to EU citizens? Or perhaps that any special treatment given to one EU Member State (other than Ireland) must also be extended to all the others?


Outlook


The White Paper has caused quite a stir since its publication, but has caused little surprise in respect of the free movement of people. Ending free movement in order to secure control over migration was an important part of the Brexit referendum in 2016 and a key part of the resulting Government policy towards Brexit. In an official statement from its Brexit Steering Group, the European Parliament welcomed the White Paper “as a step towards establishing a new relationship between the UK and the EU once the UK is no longer a Member State”. However, the Parliament and (perhaps most importantly) the Commission are yet to provide detailed comment on the proposed ‘framework’. It therefore remains to be seen what Brussels makes of the UK Government’s proposals in this area.