Kofi Annan says UK should allow freedom of movement after Brexit | World news

Free movement of people is an absolutely essential human right that Britain should abide by after it leaves the European Union, former UN secretary general Kofi Annan has said.

In an interview with the Guardian, Annan said it was a shame that Britain was leaving the EU and urged ministers to find a solution to protect the rights of foreign workers after March 2019.

“Without that right, without freedom of movement, it is very difficult for individuals to live their lives to the fullest and live their dreams. To live is to choose, life is choices, and that often entails movement,” he said.

“Movement in search of one’s dreams, movement in search of something meaningful to do, movement in running away from persecution. It is absolutely essential.”

Annan, secretary general of the UN between 1997 and 2006, made his comments ahead of a visit to Hull where he will deliver the annual Wilberforce lecture on Saturday. The Nobel peace prize winner will address the theme of freedom in the 21st century during the speech at Hull city hall.

Annan said he hoped freedom of movement between Britain and the EU would not end in March 2019. He said: “I hope one will be able to find a solution because we live in such an interdependent world and the European system – the European Union – has been so successful.

“Let’s not forget it came up after two large wars in the last century. But today the system of changes, the system of cooperation and working together has been so successful that a war in Europe is today unthinkable.

“That has been the outcome of this cooperation and, if you wish, a celebration of diversity in various countries and cultures living side-by-side and working together. I think it would be a shame to dismantle that.”

Annan said he sensed a determination among the EU’s remaining 27 member states to make the union “even more successful and much more efficient and effective” following the UK referendum result last June. “I think the Brexit experience has woken up lots of countries and people around the continent,” he said.

“I think it’s a shame because Britain has made lots of contributions and has also gained a lot [from the EU]. A united Europe, a strong Europe, has an important role to play in the world and we should not underestimate that.”

The Ghanaian diplomat, who backed the remain campaign before the referendum, said he did not wish to interfere in British politics but said: “Brexit is turning out to be much more complicated than those who advocated it thought. Now they are at the stage of working out the details.

“I don’t know what will happen and how successful it would be, or whether one will have a rethink and reconsider the issues, but that is something for the British citizens and their government to decide.”

He was critical of the “take back control” slogan used by prominent Brexiters including Boris Johnson, the foreign secretary, and said British ministers would return to more moderate language during the difficult negotiations ahead with Brussels.

“I think we are at the beginning of the process and I hope the outcome in the end will be something satisfactory for everyone and will protect the interest of the individuals,” he said. “In the end, I hope we will not be hearing a repeat of such phrases as ‘taking back our boundaries’.”

Annan was invited to Hull by John Prescott, the former deputy prime minister, to deliver the Wilberforce lecture to remember the work of Hull-born abolitionist William Wilberforce, who lobbied to ban the slave trade and introduced anti-slavery motions in parliament.

Previous high-profile speakers include Desmond Tutu, John Sentamu, the archbishop of York, and Wole Soyinka, the Nigerian playwright and poet who won the Nobel prize in literature in 1986.

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