Virginia, US
As January becomes a distant memory, the prospect of a June referendum on Britain’s membership of the EU is starting to turn heads.
David Cameron’s preliminary attempt to foster a deal in Brussels last week has again brought to the fore the issue of migration, with the Government’s pledge to lower net migration figures to “tens of thousands”  seen as a crucial factor for voters.  
As we head towards June, both the ‘In’ and ‘Out’ camps will need to provide clear detail on how they see a post-vote Britain, but we shall start with consideration of three broad ideas. 
  • What becomes of EU citizens already in the UK? An assumed proposition that those already present pre-Brexit would be permitted to stay and obtain British citizenship is currently lacking in detail, not forgetting it may in-turn require those British nationals currently working in the EU to return or to obtain permission to remain from that EU member nation. Those EU nationals currently eligible for Permanent Residence and subsequent British citizenship may wish to consider cementing that status ahead of a vote. 
  • Can free trade exist without free movement? If we look at current non-EU members such as Norway and Switzerland, their access to free trade comes with their consent to free movement provisions. Should Britain desire the free trade access and resulting economic benefits, an entwined agreement on free movement may leave those pursuing a halt to EU migration to be found wanting.
  • What about immigration from outside the EU? As the Migration Advisory Committee’s (MAC) recent report on Tier 2 Skilled Migration highlighted, in the context of the Government’s objective to reduce overall net migration, limits on non-EU work migration alone would make only a marginal contribution to the figures.  Conversely, if a potential bar to EU workers results in a more generous permission to migration from outside the EU,  what shape would that take and where would the balance lie? After all, reports have shown that EU migrants made an overall positive contribution to the UK economy between 2001-11, with those migrants from outside the EU also contributing positively, albeit to a lesser degree, over the same period.
There may be a perceived wave of discontent by voters over the UK’s existing relationship with the EU, but it remains to be seen how the campaigns will tackle the uncertainty surrounding any change to the status quo.
Simultaneously, Britain’s businesses and banks are starting to raise their voices, proclaiming how the vote could impact them and the economy – which cannot be ignored by the campaigns.  For now, we look ahead to the European Summit on February 17, the next marker in the Brexit race, where a deal could be made to pave the way for a vote in June.