Britain can stay in single market with ‘modified’ migration rules – think tank

Posted On: 
6th November 2017

The UK could remain in the European single market by offering "modifications" regarding rules on migration, a new report has claimed.

Economist Jonathan Portes says Britain could stay in the single market

Economist Jonathan Portes, who wrote the report, said it was “practical and feasible” for EU migrants to retain freedom of movement rights to the UK but that temporary and targeted controls could be enforced by separate regions to control numbers.

The report said Britain should not see membership of the single market alongside rules on enforcing curbs on migration as “impossible” – although both the UK and EU would likely have to compromise.

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Theresa May earlier this year insisted Britain "cannot possibly" remain within the European single market, as staying in it would mean "not leaving the EU at all".

However, one of the models proposed includes a “Swiss-style” system of temporary and targeted controls tied to regions or for specific jobs.

It says: “The EU would have to accept some modifications to the legal framework, the UK would have to implement major administrative and systems changes, and there would be inevitable tradeoffs between increased burdens on business and individuals and the degree of extra ‘control’ afforded by such system.”

Mr Portes, a professor of economics and public policy at King’s College London and senior fellow at The UK in a Changing Europe, said: “The British government could negotiate an arrangement whereby it can modify the operation of free movement of persons in ways that might allow it to remain in the single market.

“The Government has not yet asked, so it cannot yet know what the outcome of such a negotiation might be.

“The negotiability of such changes would depend on the political context and on political will both in the UK and in the EU27.

“But it should not be concluded ex ante that they are impossible.”


The proposal comes as the Commons’ cross-party procedure committee released a report calling for a new committee to consider every single proposed statutory instrument in relation to Brexit.

They say a new committee should have the authority to refer them for further debate by MPs or to demand they be rewritten or revoked – following “considerable” concerns among MPs over ministers’ power to amend and enact legislation without scrutiny.

"There is considerable concern in the House and elsewhere about the scale and scope of the powers claimed to amend existing legislation," the report stated.

"While these powers may be necessary, in view of the task which the government envisages, their exercise must be subject to thorough and appropriate scrutiny by Parliament."

MPs say they face an "unprecedented" challenge regarding the expected volume of secondary legislation, ahead of the committee stage of EU withdrawal bill next week.

Former attorney general Dominic Grieve has warned that there could be up to 1,000 statutory instruments as a result of Brexit and without a mechanism for assessing and approving them, the bill will not be "fit for purpose".