WERC EMEA 2016: Sir Malcolm Rifkind on Brexit

The EU would lose its strongest advocate of free markets if the UK voted to leave and it would be a very different union without it, said former foreign secretary, Sir Malcolm Rifkind, in his address to the WERC EMEA conference's closing session.

EU ballot box
In the week Prime Minister David Cameron set the date for the UK's in/out referendum on the UK's EU membership, former foreign secretary Sir Malcolm Rifkind delivered his thoughts on the issue at the closing session of the Worldwide ERC's Talent Mobility in EMEA summit.Acknowledging the valuable work of the mobility sector in the context of wider political and economic changes, he said, "Every age is an age of transition. But your industry, the conference you are having today, speaks for itself. Because mobility has got to such a level, got to such a stage, that here you are – HR, service providers – a whole spectrum of professions and expertise here to deal with what is a global phenomenon. I salute you for the work that you do."Sir Malcolm Rifkind shared his thoughts on "the extraordinary challenges that will have a relevance to your work, and the immediate impact on your challenges over the years to come."The question of the UK's membership of the EU and its relationship with it was top of the agenda. "What will it mean if, as is possible, the United Kingdom in a referendum votes to leave the European Union?" he asked.Citing the uncertainty around the outcome of the referendum, now set for 23 June 2016, Sir Malcolm said while the government may have one view, to stay in, "the public will make up their own mind on how to vote and what issues they are going to vote on."Drawing out the implications of a UK mandate to exit the EU, Sir Malcolm explained the biggest change would be departure from the single market, both for the UK and the EU."If we were to leave the EU, obviously the single most important consequence is that we'll be leaving the single market – perhaps not permanently – but the single market is for members of the European Union."The UK at the moment of exit ceases to be in that single market. Perhaps even more importantly for members of the wider European system, the EU loses its single most important advocate of free markets."Ironically, it was Margaret Thatcher, who I worked for, who was more responsible than any major European politician for the single market. Because although we are skeptical on Eurozones and integration in many areas, when it comes to removing barriers – not just trade – the single market in Europe is so unique because it is not just an open market for goods, it's a single market for services and that doesn't exist anywhere else in the world."So, if the UK was to leave, then unless it went into immediate negotiation on the single market, that disappears. And a crucial element of the single market is the free movement of labour; the fact that any citizen of any European country can move to any other EU state and not only live there, but also work there, and can be prevented from doing so."Many European countries along with many in the world are protectionist; they don't like competition. They don't like free trade and they certainly don't like competition in services as well. It will be a very different European Union."

Read more from the WERC Talent Mobility in EMEA London Summit and Sir Malcolm Rifkind on geopolitical challenges and the implications for mobility in the upcoming issue of Re:locate magazine.

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