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European Union: Freedom of Movement

Volume 777: debated on Thursday 12 January 2017


Asked by

To ask Her Majesty’s Government whether some European Union countries distinguish between freedom of movement for work and for other purposes, and how United Kingdom practice compares.

My Lords, the free movement of persons for work and other purposes is provided for in the treaties and CJEU case law and largely governed by the free movement directive. All member states are bound by this directive, including the UK, and implement this through their respective domestic legislation. The directive sets out that in order for an EU citizen to reside in another member state beyond three months, they must be exercising a treaty right; that is, working, self-employed, self-sufficient or a student.

My Lords, has the Minister’s Answer not got to the nub of this? The three-month practice is what most countries in the EU follow—namely, that you can stay for three months and, if you have not got a job by then, off you go. We do not do that. Surely if we adhered to the same practice as most other EU countries we would be in a much better position to negotiate a sensible way forward.

My Lords, the Government do not comment on other member states’ implementation of the free movement directive. We are about to begin these negotiations and it would wrong to set out our position in advance, but the Government are clear that at every step of these negotiations we will work to ensure the best possible outcome for the UK.

My Lords, I have been reading in the newspapers that the EU is demanding that we will have to give free movement of labour in return for access to the single market, but the United States has access to the single market and I am sure that it does not give free movement of labour between Europe and the United States.

My Lords, will the Minister, rather than answering a question she was not asked, answer the question she was asked by the noble Lord, Lord Dubs? He asked why we do not now apply the three-month rule, not what we will apply when we have a new relationship. I understand that she is not prepared to say that, but will she now answer his question and say whether she thinks that if we decided now to start applying it we would put ourselves in a much better position when we start the negotiations?

My Lords, I think I did answer the noble Lord’s question. Each member state implements the free movement directive through their respective domestic legislation, all of which have different nuances within them.

My Lords, I thank the Minister for that confirmation that EU law on free movement is sound and not a charter for layabouts or benefit scroungers and that, if the strict conditions for eligibility are not enforced, that is a failure not of Brussels but of the UK Government and notably the Home Office, which the Prime Minister presided over for six years. Will the Minister offer the further reassurance that EU free movers contribute enormously to our economy, to the Treasury and to our society, and that it is a two-way street, with millions of UK citizens having taken advantage of EU free movement rights?

My Lords, I do not disagree at all that the EU free movers contribute to the economy. We were talking yesterday about doctors, nurses and various other people who contribute to the public sector. I cannot remember the first part of the question, but I think I answered it previously. Each country enshrines the free movement directive in its own legislation.

My Lords, if the noble Baroness will not comment on the detail of discussions in response to my noble friend Lord Dubs, can I repeat the question I asked her on 30 November? Do the Government make any distinction between the free movement of persons and the free movement of labour? Could she answer without conferring?

I am not entirely sure, but all those distinctions and discussions that will be taking place will be solidified in the fullness of time as we go through this process.

Will the 180-day tax residency rule be applied, with all those working in nation states paying their taxes in the countries in which they are resident?

All people who are resident in a country for more than a certain number of days a year are liable to pay the taxes of that country.

Does not the fascinating Question asked by the noble Lord, Lord Dubs, reveal that the so-called absolute—fundamental freedom of movement of labour—is not fundamental at all? There are all sorts of variations developing, particularly under modern movement conditions. Does the Minister accept that those who keep arguing that this is a binary choice between absolute freedom and being in the single market simply have not grasped the reality of the situation at all?

My noble friend raises the point about different countries’ implementation of the directive although we have not, as a Government, done a comparative analysis. However, he is absolutely right.

My Lords, will the noble Baroness write to me, and put a copy of her letter in the Library, setting out in detail the Government’s reason for failing to implement and for failing to answer the question of the noble Lord, Lord Hannay, and my noble friend Lord Dubs?

My Lords, it is not a failure to implement; it is a difference in each country’s implementation of its legislation. This country is more than generous in its implementation of that directive.

My Lords, after Brexit, why will we not be like the 168 other countries on the planet which have not made the mistake of joining the EU and which simply decide for themselves who comes in, how long they stay and on what conditions?

My Lords, as we exit the European Union, one of the balances to be struck is about controlling immigration and at the same time ensuring that we have the skills in this country needed to meet our economy.