Cartes de séjour, the 90-day rule and increased police checks at the border – the British government is to blame for all of these, according to the EU’s former Brexit negotiator, Michel Barnier.
The 70-year-old who lost out in the race to be the presidential candidate for France’s centre-right party said he realised very quickly that freedom of movement for British citizens within the EU was never a real possibility.
“The British imposed a hard line from the beginning of the negotiations – a total exit from all European institutions. It was not obliged to do this. They wanted to exit from everything definitively: the single market with the liberty to move freely, the customs union and the European Union,” he told The Local.
“There are two other countries, Iceland and Norway, who are in the single market without being in the European Union. The door was open to these options,” said Barnier.
Britons who took advantage of freedom of movement to move to France and other EU countries have effectively been “landlocked” by Brexit. They can move home, albeit with obstacles if they have an EU partner, but they cannot move freely to another EU country.
Reciprocity was key in ensuring a smooth transition to the post-Brexit landscape, according to Barnier. The EU offered residency and social rights for Brits living in Europe before December 31st 2020 – and the UK did the same for Europeans.
But the veteran politician remembers that up until the very end of the negotiation process, he was pushing for greater freedom of movement.
“I proposed freedom of movement for artists in the negotiations. This is something I spoke about with Elton John. He asked me what we could do. I told him that I had proposed freedom of movement but that the British didn’t want it,” he said.
“The door is still open for closer relationship with the British in the coming years – I don’t know until when,” said Barnier adding that any change would depend on the “will of the British”.
Barnier hoped to win the primary of France’s traditional conservative party to stand as The Republicans’ candidate at next year’s presidential election. He narrowly missed out to Valérie Pécresse. If she becomes the next leader of France, Barnier could feasibly end up serving as a senior minister.
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In this scenario, immigrations to France for citizens from non-EU countries would become harder.
“It will be much less easy because we will hold a referendum next September, which would allow parliament to fix migration quotas every year – like in Canada – for students, family reunification and economic migrants,” said Barnier, seemingly confident of a victory for Pécresse.
“It will not be zero migration, because that is just a slogan, but there will be quotas.”