UK free to introduce visas on Poland and other EU members after Brexit

David Davis, British Secretary of State for Exiting the European Union, speaks to the press on 28 September 2017. [Commission]

The UK will be free to introduce visas for Poland, Romania and Bulgaria and may do so after its “orderly exit” from the European Union, Britain’s chief negotiator David Davis said on Thursday (28 September), answering a question from EURACTIV.com.

Davis and his EU counterpart, Michel Barnier faced the press as usual on Thursday, to debrief on the fourth round of negotiations that took place this week.

The two negotiators said they had achieved more clarity on the details the UK’s Prime Minister Theresa May’s had brought up in her speech in Florence on 22 September.

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But Barnier warned that they were “not there yet”, with time running out to achieve sufficient progress for the EU leaders to agree to unlock discussions on Britain’s future relationship with the bloc, after it leaves in March 2019. “Further work is needed in the coming weeks and months,” he said.

At the press conference, EURACTIV asked Davis if the UK was planning to introduce visas for Poland, Bulgaria and Romania after its exit, or whether a commitment not to do so would be part of the deal.

If this issue was not part of the Brexit discussions, EURACTIV asked why it was not addressed, given that the interests of millions of citizens from several countries were at stake.

Davis answered:

“Oh yes, I mean, we will. Strict question. We will be free to, yes, we will no longer be a member of the European Union, we will be free to operate our migration policy as we see fit. As I’ve said before, that does not mean that people from the EU countries will not be able to come to Britain and work in Britain, but we will have that freedom.”

Barnier initially avoided commenting, saying that the question was more to the UK negotiator than to him.

Asked by EURACTIV to take a position as well, he explained that legally, he was not in a position to address this particular issue. He said that at a later stage, in the context of discussions on a future relation with the UK, “it is always possible to discuss issues such as immigration, issues concerning citizens of both sides”.

But he added that this would be in the context of the EU’s relations with the UK, which would already have the status of a third country.

The “leave” campaign by Brexiteers was heavily built on messages that it would stop Poles, Romanians and Bulgarians from taking jobs from British citizens. Other East European countries got less attention.

EU visa policy requires reciprocity from third countries, meaning that should the UK as a third country impose visas, albeit only to Poles, all the 27 members should introduce visa requirements for UK citizens.

However, this rule has proved to be unworkable, at least in the context of EU-USA relations.  The citizens of Poland, Cyprus, Croatia, Romania and Bulgaria still need visas to visit the US.

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