What does “freedom of movement” mean and why is it important?

It’s now more than three months since the EU referendum and we still have no idea if the Tory government wants the UK to stay in the single market – putting at risk our right to travel visa-free across Europe.

When asked by SNP Westminster Leader Angus Robertson if the UK Government will protect visa-free travel – Theresa May refused to give any such guarantee.




Asked whether people would have to pay for a visa to visit Europe following Brexit, the Home Secretary has said, “We do not rule it out.”


Several senior Labour figures at Westminster have also made clear that they would rather sacrifice membership of the single market than retain freedom of movement.

It is clear that the SNP is now the only party that can be trusted on Europe. We remain committed to protecting freedom of movement and our membership of the single market, both of which bring huge economic and social benefits to Scotland.

What does freedom of movement mean?

Freedom of movement means the right of any EU citizen to live, work, study or train in any EU member state and on the same terms as nationals from that country. It is estimated that two million people from the UK are benefiting from this right by living, working or studying in other EU countries.

Through EU initiatives like Erasmus our young people have the chance to study in other countries and deepen their understanding of different cultures. Between 2007-08 and 2013-14, over 11,500 young people in Scotland took advantage of the right to train or study in any member state through the Erasmus scheme.

Freedom of movement also means that Scotland benefits from the contribution of people from other EU countries that live and work here – they enrich our culture, strengthen our society, support our public services and boost our economy.

What happens if people in Scotland are no longer entitled to freedom of movement?

Without freedom of movement we would no longer have the right to travel across Europe without a visa. The European Commission has recently proposed a new visa system for tourists, which would apply to people travelling into the EU from other countries.

With the UK Government refusing to rule out accepting a charge for people travelling from the UK to EU countries, this new ‘holiday tax’ could cost people as much as £50.

When we travel elsewhere in the EU, we also currently have the right to state-provided healthcare in other countries on the same basis as those who live there. Since 2007-08 this right has saved people from the UK around £1.2 billion. Without this right, holidaymakers could have to pay the full cost of necessary healthcare when they take ill in Europe. 


Can the UK be in the single market without allowing freedom of movement?

By refusing to accept freedom of movement, the UK Government would, in effect, be giving up on our membership of the single market. A number of senior EU politicians, including the President of the European Commission and the European Parliament’s lead negotiator on Brexit, have said that the UK must accept freedom of movement to stay in the single market.



Being in the single market means businesses are able to sell goods and services to a market of 500 million people, without paying any tariffs and without having to adhere to completely different rules in each country. An estimated 300,000 jobs in Scotland rely on our trade with the rest of the EU.

You can read more about the importance of staying in the single market for our economy and what people across the world are saying about the UK’s membership, here.