If it transpires, the Observer’s story on the EU granting the UK an exemption on free movement for EU citizens could be a breakthrough. How could an immigration cap solve the problem of a hard border? On the face of it, it would make it worse. But if Ireland would join the exemption and agree an immigration cap with the UK based on estimates of the need for EU and non- EU workers, the issue of a hard border disappears. It could be administered jointly through the common travel area as illegal immigration is today and obviate any need for permanent border checks. Might this, combined with EEA terms of trade see us through to a generally acceptable Brexit settlement?
Plans to allow the United Kingdom an exemption from EU rules on freedom of movement for up to seven years while retaining access to the single market are being considered in European capitals as part of a potential deal on Brexit.
If such an agreement were struck, and a strict time limit imposed, diplomats believe it could go a long way towards addressing concerns of the British people over immigration from EU states, while allowing the UK full trade access to the European market.
The negotiations wouldn’t be a doddle. They would involve a breach in one of the four freedoms by Ireland, a full EU member, unless Ireland too moved to associate status which has so far not been contemplated . And there are plenty of Brexiteers who don’t regard even EEA status so amended as true Brexit at all. Still, such “special arrangements” may be promoted to satisfy the unique position of the island of Ireland. Whether EU 26 would accept them is something else.
Former BBC journalist and manager in Belfast, Manchester and London, Editor Spolight; Political Editor BBC NI; Current Affairs Commissioning editor BBC Radio 4; Editor Political and Parliamentary Programmes, BBC Westminster; former London Editor Belfast Telegraph. Hon Senior Research Fellow, The Constitution Unit, Univ Coll. London