Leaving the European Union would not halt the free movement of migrants into the UK, a legal expert has said.
A key argument for the ‘leave’ camp ahead of the 23 June referendum on Britain’s membership of the EU has been migration, at a time when the bloc is struggling to deal with the fallout from the Syrian refugee crisis.
Eurosceptics argue that leaving the EU will give us sovereignty over our borders and stem the flow of migrants from newer members of the economic and political union, such as Bulgaria and Romania – and prevent migrants from outside the bloc entering the UK via other member states.
If we did leave the EU, the UK would have to establish new trade agreements with the rest of Europe. But Anthony Woolich, partner at Holman Fenwick Willan, told Hot Commodity that if the UK expects to continue doing business with EU member states, it will come with strings attached.
“If the UK wants to export its goods and services to the EU, free movement of persons could be a key part of a free trade agreement,” he said.
“Especially bearing in mind how close the UK is to mainland Europe, I think it is highly likely that the EU would demand free movement as part of the deal.”
However, it should be noted that the EU currently has 53 trade agreements with countries around the world – all with varying Visa arrangements – so free movement is not a certainty.
Regarding the trade deal itself, Woolich argues that this could be tricky to thrash out.
“I don’t think the UK will be very popular if we leave the EU, as it’s a time of crisis,” he said. “So I think the EU will drive a hard bargain.
“Furthermore, the EU has negotiated our trade agreements with countries outside the bloc – does our civil service have the expertise to negotiate these deals?” he added.
“These discussions are slow moving and we will have to do this on multiple levels.”
The migrant crisis has dominated headlines in recent months and added weight to the ‘leave’ argument, due to growing concern over border control. Prime Minister David Cameron recently came back from Brussels with a proposal for EU membership reform that was seen as far too weak by Eurosceptics.
The large inflow of migrants has put a strain on some eastern European countries, who do not have the capabilities to deal with them. Macedonia provoked outrage when it resorted to using tear gas to hold back migrants, while other countries have built high fences and tightened their identity controls to protect their borders.
This week the EU proposed a deal whereby Turkey will take back Syrian migrants who have arrived in Greece and in return, a Syrian already in Turkey would be resettled in the EU. Turkey would receive financial support and progress on its EU membership application.