EU free movement must be curbed, UK says
British leader Theresa May has said free movement of EU workers to Britain cannot continue as in the past, while visiting Slovakia and Poland on Thursday (28 July).
“It’s a very clear message that has come from the vote of the British people - they don’t want freedom of movement to be continued in the same way as in the past, they want some level of control”, she told press in Warsaw, referring to the British referendum, in June, on leaving the EU.
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She had said the same line word for word in Bratislava earlier the same day, while adding that she would “deliver that as part of future negotiations [with the EU], as well as the best possible deal on goods and services”.
The Polish prime minister, Beata Szydlo, said “freedom of movement is likely to be the most important part of the negotiations between both parties”.
“It will not be easy. But I think both for Britain and the EU it is very important that this issue - one of the four freedoms of the internal market - is saved”.
The Slovak PM, Robert Fico, spoke less firmly in Bratislava.
He said the “perception British voters have” of EU migration was “slightly different to how we perceive migration on the continent”. He also asked May to “dedicate a special level of attention to Slovak nationals … who currently work in the EU”.
Some 800,000 Poles have settled in the UK since Britain opened up its labour market in 2004. About 90,000 Slovaks have made the move.
May said that Britain and Slovakia also had strong trade ties, noting that British car maker Jaguar Land Rover and retailer Tesco had major investments in the country.
She said the UK is Poland’s second biggest trading partner and that the UK exports £3 billion (€3.57 billion) of goods to Poland each year.
May also said in both capitals that the rights of EU citizens in Britain will not be affected until the UK formally leaves the EU.
She said that they will be welcome to stay after the UK leaves so long as the rights of British people living in the EU are also guaranteed.
She said that Fico at their lunch had backed the principle of “reciprocity”.
May praised the contribution of Slovak and Polish migrants to British society and, in Warsaw, recalled the fact that Polish pilots fought alongside the British air force in World War II.
“We condemned shameful and despicable attacks against on Polish communities and others in the wake of the referendum result”, she said.
“Hate crime of any kind detected against any community, race or religion has absolutely no place in British society”.
The British leader promised to continue to defend Nato’s eastern allies, amid plans to post hundreds of British soldiers to Estonia to deter Russian aggression.
Speaking in Bratislava, she recalled that the UK recently voted to renew its nuclear deterrent and that she would be ready to use it if need be.
She said that Britain saw eye to eye with Slovakia and Poland on the need to control the inflow of refugees and economic migrants to Europe.
“The EU’s collective approach in the eastern Mediterranean has delivered a significant reduction in the numbers arriving on that route. It shows that returning illegal economic migrants to where they come from does have a deterrent effect”, she said in Slovakia.
Redesign a new project
She urged Turkey, which is taking back irregular migrants from Greece, to respect human rights in its post-coup crackdown.
But she also said that “it is vital that this practical work [on migration] continues”.
Szydlo and Fico, both of whom want the EU to slow down integration and for EU institutions to hand back some powers to capitals, said the Brexit vote should lead to EU reforms.
The Polish leader said the EU needed to “listen to its citizens” and to “repair” itself.
Fico, who will host a summit on EU reform in mid-September as part of Slovakia’s EU presidency, said: “This is an opportunity for both sides to reimagine and redesign a new project of mutual relations, a project that will be equally attractive both to the citizens of the United Kingdom and the European Union”.