One of the key reasons a big chunk of Britons support a Brexit — Britain leaving the European Union — is the issue of immigration.
But even if Britain decided to leave the 28-nation bloc after voting in the referendum on June 23, Simon Wells and his team at HSBC warned that the UK is still likely to pay the EU for the right to limit the movement of people coming across the border — by being financially punished (emphasis ours):
According to opinion polls, the most widely cited reasons for UK voters wanting to leave the EU are to stop the UK’s net contribution to the EU budget and to restrict EU immigration.
This suggests that if the UK leaves the EU it would want a divorce deal that allowed restrictions on labour movement.
But the EU would be unlikely to offer the UK migration restrictions without some quid pro quo.
Most likely it would seek to limit the freedom of movement of capital and services, since these are areas where it potentially would have most to gain and the UK a lot to lose.
Various polls over the last year or so have shown how the Freedom of Movement Act, which allows all EU citizens to easily migrate to any other member state, as well as immigration in general, is one of the factors that pushes UK voters to pip for exiting the EU.
After all, government data shows that net migration into Britain from the EU was 180,000 in the year to June 2015 — a new all-time high.
Freedom of Movement Act rules only apply to EU citizens — not asylum seekers, expats or economic migrants.
However, of the 3.2 million non-UK nationals working in Britain in the third quarter last year — just under 2 million were EU nationals.
So if Britain was to curb migration and leave the EU, it would hurt EU citizens the most. This is why Wells and his team at HSBC believe that it’s likely the EU would want something in return for Britain restricting migration (emphasis ours):
Controls on the movement of capital and services would cut both ways. Given its tight trade and geographic links with the UK, Ireland’s services exports to the UK are around 3% of GDP, so it potentially would stand to lose out.
Otherwise, the big exporters of services to the UK (as a proportion of the exporting countries’ GDP) are EU economies with either significant financial or tourism links to the UK (or in the case of Cyprus and Malta possibly both).
The EU is reliant on the UK for both the financial services it produces, and its holidaymakers.
In 2014, the UK had a GBP17.1bn services trade surplus with the rest of the EU. Within this, a GBP10.3bn deficit in travel services is offset by a GBP10.8bn surplus in other, non-financial services.
The UK’s surplus in financial services trade (GBP16.6bn) is roughly equal to the entire services surplus.
In the event of a UK vote to leave, the UK would be unlikely to place restrictions on tourists, and countries in the EU that benefit from UK tourists would be unlikely to impose significant barriers. Therefore, it is financial services trade that would be likely to be the focus in any post-Brexit negotiations.