Freedom of movement: why it matters and where political parties stand

Both the Conservatives and Labour are now committed to ending freedom of movement. Here’s what you need to know.

What does freedom of movement mean?

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

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

The UK government has confirmed that it is committed to ending freedom of movement, by any means necessary, through the Brexit process. Here’s what the UK government’s White Paper – “The process for withdrawing from the European Union” – stated:

“[UK citizens living, working and travelling in the other EU 27 Member States of the EU] all currently enjoy a range of specific rights to live, to work and access to pensions, health care and public services that are only guaranteed because of EU law. There would be no requirement under EU law for these rights to be maintained if the UK left the EU.”

The European Commission has recently proposed a new visa system for tourists, which would apply to people travelling into the EU from other countries.

Right now we 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.

Key sectors of Scotland’s economy are at risk. Our food and drink sector employs 8,000 EU nationals – 11.3 per cent of all those employed in the sector. Twenty thousand EU nationals work in the tourism sector – 10.8 per cent of all employees.

Free movement is vital to our public services. Around 17 per cent of EU nationals are employed in public administration, education and health.

Opportunities for our young people are under threat too. 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.

Where do the political parties stand?

❌ The Tories have committed to ending freedom of movement by any means necessary.

❌ Labour committed to ending freedom of movement. Senior Labour figures have criticised Labour’s position on free movement as being the same as UKIP’s.

 Liberal Democrat leader Vince Cable has argued for ending freedom of movement, saying he has “serious doubts that EU free movement is tenable or even desirable.

✅ The SNP strongly supports continued membership of the Single Market, including freedom of movement.