It is often said by those who want the UK to leave the EU, or for substantial renegotiation of the terms of Britain's membership, that Britain didn't originally 'sign up to' the free movement of people and an 'ever closer union'. The free movement of people and thus the problem of migration is they say a result of the EU and not the EEC which we originally signed up to. The EEC they claim was purely a common market and not a political union. It was for the free movement of goods and not people the claim. We had a referendum on our membership of the EEC but not of the EU. It is to say the least a disingenuous argument because it is wrong.
Certainly what is now referred to as the Single Market was at the heart of the original Treaty of Rome, which came into force in 1958. That Treaty aimed at creating a “common market”, later “internal market”, covering the whole territory of the then six members of the EEC. But what did this market consist of? The common market involved a Customs Union and the free movement of goods – that is, a single external customs tariff plus the abolition of all duties and similar mechanisms between the Member States. But it did more. It made provisions for the free movement of workers, of services, and capital — the free movement of persons was in the Treaty of Rome right from the start These were known as the Four Freedoms. The EEC also made provisions for competition policy and government aid to business. All these mechanisms continue to form the core of the Single Market as we now know it *.
Much of the argument about migration in the EU of course stems now from scale. The original 6 EEC members has now expanded and continues to do so. UKIP's leader Nigel Farage has made made statements about the numbers of potential migrants to the UK. Again some of these statements are misleading. Of course the sum total of theoretically possible migration to Britain can be calculated in simple terms by subtracting the UK population from that of the entire EU. There is a theoretical possibility that everyone else in the EU would wish to migrate to live and work in the UK - theoretically yes, plausible no.
So there are two sets of disingenuous arguments: that we didn't sign up to a 'free movement of people' in the original EEC - yes we did because that too was a key freedom under the terms of the EEC. Furthermore successive governments, including Tory governments continued to sign up to that particular freedom**. Mrs Thatcher, perhaps the most anti-EU prime minister, was more concerned with repatriation of 'our' money than with challenging the freedom of movement of peoples. As she rightly said in her now famous Bruges speech setting out her perspective on the EU:
"And let me be quite clear. Britain does not dream of some cosy, isolated existence on the fringes of the European Community. Our destiny is in Europe, as part of the Community."
Our destiny is in Europe, as part of the Community. What she meant by that was as part of the EU. She went on to say that the European Community "is a practical means by which Europe can ensure the future prosperity and security of its people in a world in which there are many other powerful nations and groups of nations."
For Mrs Thatcher the crucial role of the EU was to break down barriers to free trade and enterprise.
"The aim of a Europe open to enterprise is the moving force behind the creation of the Single European Market in 1992. By getting rid of barriers, by making it possible for companies to operate on a European scale, we can best compete with the United States, Japan and other new economic powers emerging in Asia and elsewhere."
Getting rid of barriers so that companies can operate on a European scale meant also removing barriers to the free movement of people. Whilst she spoke of the need for national borders to prevent illegal immigration she made no reference to stopping the free movement of people across Europe.
Now those who want Britain out of the EU say that we never signed up to the free movement of people - Yes we did.
*EU citizens have the following main rights:
• The right of residence anywhere in the EU. EU citizens and their family members, including third-country nationals, may reside anywhere for up to three months. They may remain for over three months if they are working, if (in most circumstances) they have become unemployed or are in training; if they can support themselves otherwise; or if studying. They gain the permanent right of residence if legally resident in a Member State for five years;
• The right of free movement anywhere in the EU, including not to be deterred from moving to another Member State, and including the coordination of social security entitlements in accordance with the regime in Regulation 883/2004. The jurisprudence suggests that this provision even covers areas where the EU does not otherwise have extensive legislative powers;
• The right not to be discriminated against in another Member State. Again, this provision even covers areas where the EU does not otherwise have extensive legislative powers.
** The UK was a major driving force in generating political impetus behind reforms and pressed for the Single Market portfolio for the UK’s Commissioner, Lord Cockfield, in 1984. In 1985 the Commission submitted to the Milan European Council a White Paper, Completing the Internal Market, which argued for a new more dynamic strategy based on mutual recognition and on more legislative harmonisation. It listed 279 specific legislative measures to be brought into force by 1992, and proposed a series of Treaty changes to enable that to happen more swiftly. This essentially set the agenda for the Single Market as we know it today.