There are currently lorries queueing in their thousands in the south east of England as France has closed its border due to the fear of spreading the mutated strain of COVID-19.

If the UK was still in the EU*, is this something France and other EU countries would have been allowed to do given the EU tenet of free trade and movement?

*The UK left the EU on the 31st of January 2020. It is currently in a “transition period” until the end of the year at which point the existing EU/UK agreement will end.

  • Note that even if it were not possible to close the borders, there would not be much sense anyway. For example, in my state, which directly borders France, there is a general shelter-at-home order in place, with an even stricter night curfew. So, even if it were not possible to stop people from crossing the border as you assume, they would still be required by law to return to their homes immediately as soon as they set foot on Baden-Württemberg soil. (With a certain set of enumerated exceptions, e.g. for medical emergencies, etc.) Dec 23, 2020 at 12:23

2 Answers 2


Yes, Directive 2004/38/EC, the directive passed in 2004 to consolidate freedom of movement legislation, contains a number of provisions which allow restrictions to be placed on this right.

Particularly, Chapter VI, Article 27, states:

  1. Subject to the provisions of this Chapter, Member States may restrict the freedom of movement and residence of Union citizens and their family members, irrespective of nationality, on grounds of public policy, public security or public health. These grounds shall not be invoked to serve economic ends.

Article 29 states:

1.   The only diseases justifying measures restricting freedom of movement shall be the diseases with epidemic potential as defined by the relevant instruments of the World Health Organisation and other infectious diseases or contagious parasitic diseases if they are the subject of protection provisions applying to nationals of the host Member State.

As Covid-19 qualifies by this criterion, France, or any EU member, can restrict EU citizens' freedom of movement by closing the border to freight.

It's worth bearing in mind that until the end of the Brexit transition period, UK citizens still enjoy the same freedom of movement rights as EU citizens. Note also that unmanned freight is not being blocked; according to Boris Johnson's press release on December 21st; the current restriction is purely a freedom of movement issue and not an explicit restriction on trade:

And it is vital first to stress that these delays – which are only occurring at Dover – only affect human-handled freight, and that is only 20 per cent of the total arriving from or departing to the European continent


Yes; most EU countries closed their borders (e.g. between Germany/Netherlands/Belgium) because of the pandemic in March/April 2020. They are currently doing the same with the UK.

  • 1
    @Darren: The border to an island, with 20+ miles of sea in the way, is a different matter from a land border. The UK and Ireland have never been part of the Schengen Area because it requires preparation and transport to cross the sea. Dec 22, 2020 at 18:18
  • 6
    @JohnDallman I don’t think Schengen is relevant here. It’s the difference between travelling with or without a passport, not between being able to travel or not at all. Outside of schengen, the UK has still always had freedom of movement and trade within the EU.
    – Darren
    Dec 22, 2020 at 18:20
  • 2
    @Darren Not necessarily, for example Germany restricted traffic from some countries but not others, Denmark also had rules like that (which doesn't mean it was legal). The EU Commission was unhappy (which doesn't mean it was illegal).
    – Relaxed
    Dec 23, 2020 at 0:36
  • 3
    @JohnDallman the UK and Ireland didn't join the Schengen area because the UK didn't want to give up control of its borders, and neither country wanted to dismantle the common travel area. It's perfectly possible for an island to be in the Schengen area, and several islands are in fact in the Schengen area.
    – phoog
    Dec 23, 2020 at 5:22
  • 2
    The border between Germany and Netherlands was never closed.
    – gerrit
    Dec 23, 2020 at 9:35

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