Free movement of labour not up for debate in Brexit - Dombrovskis
Valdis Dombrovskis, European Commission vice-president, yesterday insisted the UK must abide by the bloc’s freedom of movement rules during a Brexit transition period.
His remarks highlight a deepening rift between Brussels and London after Britain’s Prime Minister, Theresa May, this week argued that EU migrants should have weaker rights in a post-Brexit UK.
When the Irish Independent asked Mr Dombrovskis to respond to these comments at a news conference in Dublin, he reiterated that freedom of movement is a condition for continued single market access during the transition period.
He said the EU’s 27 member states have “been very clear” on this issue “since the very beginning. Access to the Single Market comes with conditions, and free movement of labour is one of those conditions. This position has not changed”.
His remarks echo those of Guy Verhofstadt, the European Parliament’s Brexit co-ordinator, who countered Mrs May’s latest battle cry with the assertion that citizens’ rights during the transition period remain non-negotiable.
He told ‘The Guardian’ newspaper that Brussels “will not accept that there are two sets of rights for EU citizens.
“For the transition to work, it must mean a continuation of the existing acquis with no exceptions.”
This latest debate over the transition period comes ahead of a fresh round of Brexit talks that are due to conclude in March.
Mr Dombrovskis said the EU will “likely need to base our relations [with the UK] on a free trade agreement basis” unless Mrs May’s government “completely reverses its approach” and accepts the bloc’s four freedoms, which include the free movement of labour, along with a contribution to the budget – a stance that French President Emmanuel Macron also articulated recently during an interview with the BBC.
In the absence of any acceptance of the single market conditions, Mr Dombrovskis said UK financial companies could continue to access the EU market either via full-blown subsidiaries in one of the 27 member states after Brexit or fall back on financial regulatory “equivalence” – the limited and revocable access given to third-country institutions.
However, he said companies must maintain sufficient presence in the bloc to retain the passporting right and said the EU will ensure there is “supervisory convergence” so that “we do not start some supervisory or regulatory race to the bottom just to attract certain businesses from the UK”.