Freedom of Movement?

This is my third article in a mini-series of opinion pieces linked to Brexit and the end of the transition phase.  Here I want to talk about freedom of movement. This applies to:

  • Goods
  • Services
  • People

Now, there are people around who believe that there should be complete control on movement. They do not think there should be freedom of movement of goods, services or people. For such people, their vision of Brexit was and remains to see Britain put in place stringent border controls between the UK, the continent and the Republic of Ireland. For some, their opposition to free movement of goods and services is principled. They see customs controls as central to our protection of our own economy. Others, and I believe Theresa May fell into this camp were supportive of free movement of goods and services but saw people movement and migration as the crucial issues. They concluded that Brexit was mainly about borders and immigration and that therefore if you wanted to restrict freedom of movement there would be a cost in terms of reduced freedom of trade.

There are others that seem to get the point that if you are going to see freedom of movement, then three types go hand in hand, especially services. If you want to open up your borders to frictionless trade then you have to minimise friction as people move too and thro as well.   That is where I would position myself.  I see the benefits of free trade, it allows a richer range of goods and services at more competitive costs.  I tend towards free-market economics because I am wary of interventions in systems where overall you can expect supply and demand to balance each other out.  Government and institutional interventions tend to bring disruption to that and we risk causing instability whilst trying to create artificial stability.

Now, the odd thing I find is that many of those who get that point in terms of the EU, who see that it is in our interests to  have frictionless trade with France, Germany, Italy and Poland are dead set against it when comes to the rest of the world. They want a single market and a customs union with our neighbouring countries but don’t seem to be so worried about getting that with Commonwealth and other countries.

The thing is this.  If that is your position, then you haven’t really got the concept of free movement. You remain a protectionist. You just want the protectionism to look after a larger area and population. I understand the basis of such an argument but it is important that we are clear about the positions argued.

Sadly, the Brexit debate has largely avoided a series discussion about the pros and cons of free movement and has instead relied on a highly emotive argument based on sound-bites.[1]  One of my hopes for 2021 is that this will change and we will be able to have a proper conversation about what is really in our interests and those of our trade partners.


[1] And there is a debate to be had including the impact on a country where the emigration happens from. 

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