Philip Hammond this evening hinted he doesn’t think Britain is going to get any fundamental reforms on freedom of movement. The Foreign Secretary, appearing alongside Tory grandee and Peter Lilley at a Demos fringe event, argued that Eastern European countries have an ‘emotional ownership’ to their EU membership in a way Britain does not:
‘Because of the emotional linkage with their own freedom from Soviet slavery and the ability of people in Eastern Europe to travel for the first time in their lives, a deeply emotive thing, no political leader in Eastern Europe is going to support the end of freedom of movement. It would be domestic political suicide.’
Despite this, Hammond still believes that a deal can be done on migration— focusing on the so-called ‘pull factors’ that attract migrants to the UK:
‘When we approach it from a different angle, reducing the attraction factors that encourage people to come here: the generous access to welfare benefits, the payment of in-work benefits from the very beginning before people have contributed to our system, the payment of in-work benefits for children who aren’t even residents of the United Kingdom. There we have a lot more sympathy, a lot more flexibility and a lot more willingness to work with us.’
Hammond is a politician who keeps his cards close and rarely gives anything away. His comments will therefore add to the fears of Tory Eurosceptics that the government isn’t going to bring back any substantial changes and it's going to be a fudge dressed up like real reform. Hammond did say that the renegotiation is not a one-way street — he said there is an opportunity for ‘injecting a big dose of British common sense into the workings of the union for the benefit of all citizens in the European Union’. Something else the Out-ers will be pleased to know is on the government's mind.