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Here's a way to retain the EU rights we value

Published 22/07/2016

Could I respectfully suggest to Margaret Ritchie MP (Write Back, July 19) that her contribution is heavy on rhetoric, but completely devoid of possible solutions.

There is a way to retain the main EU rights that people in Northern Ireland value, while preserving the UK and our relationship with the Republic. I hope that she, and others, will be open-minded and consider this.

Firstly, we have to accept that the entire UK has to formally and legally leave the EU. Then, we have to recognise differing priorities in the four parts of the UK. England and Wales, overpopulated and under pressure, want a clear annual limit to the free movement of people, but full single market access. Northern Ireland and Scotland, in contrast, want full free movement as well as the free market, as now.

The solution lies in different rules for EU free movement across the four parts of the UK. It is complicated to achieve, but possible with new administrative structures, including an enhanced national insurance number system.

We would also have differing contributions to the EU budget, as an external EU partner, across the four nations. This is because England and Wales would have to pay handsomely for a very special deal. Worth every penny, when you consider the alternatives.

So, in England and Wales, we would pay, just as Norway and Switzerland do now, to gain access to the single market. But we would have to pay much more per head to achieve a quota deal for free movement of people - effectively, a permanent version of the emergency break that David Cameron unsuccessfully sought. The figure might be something like a limit of 100,000 people, each way, annually.

In Northern Ireland and Scotland, there would be full free movement and less paid to the EU budget for this associate status. The devolved administrations would then keep that saving to spend elsewhere, for example, on their health services. There would also, of course, be full access to the single market.

Post-Brexit EU citizens, moving freely to Northern Ireland, or Scotland, could not then move across to live or work in England, or Wales, except as part of the annual quota system.

JOHN GEMMELL

Birmingham

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