EU Parliament chief negotiator Guy Verhofstadt has insisted that agreeing British access to the single market while also accepting tighter immigration controls risks destroying the European Union.
Speaking in Strasboug in response to comments from British Prime Minister Theresa May, Mr Verhofstadt claimed that access to the single market could only be an option if the free movement of people was also accepted. Mr Verhofstadt insisted the single market and free movement of labour were “a package” that “underpin the Union.” “If you start to make a split between them, you destroy in fact the Union and its internal market,” the EU Parliament’s chief negotiator argued.
Mr Verhofstadt’s comments contrast starkly with those of Theresa May, who earlier in the week confirmed the UK would trigger Article 50 by March 2017. UK cabinet ministers, speaking at this week’s Conservative Party conference, have also indicated the UK will not commit to free movement in order to access the single market after the country formally leaves the European Union. Speaking at the conference, newly-appointed Home Secretary Amber Rudd set out proposals to encourage UK businesses to employ more British workers, while International Trade Secretary Dr Liam Fox has previously claimed the UK “should have at least as free a trading environment as we have today.” While both sides are yet to fully define their negotiating positions, the question over whether the UK will remain in single market is expected to a fundamental part of future talks, although Mrs May has also talked of the UK reaching out to other markets.