The Government has announced that freedom of movement will come to an end when Britain leaves the European Union in March 2019.
Immigration minister Brandon Lewis said free movement was one of the “core principles” of the EU, and that a new immigration system would be in place after Brexit.
However, his comments appear to contradict those made by Home Secretary Amber Rudd, who said earlier that the flow of EU workers would continue for an “implementation period” after Britain formally leaves the EU, to ensure that there is “no cliff edge” for employers.
Mr Lewis told BBC Radio 4’s Today programme: “Free movement of labour ends when we leave the European Union in the spring of 2019 – we’re very clear about that.”
Asked why free trade and single market access would not also end then, Mr Lewis said: “There’s a period of negotiation we’re going through with the European Union at the moment, but we’re very clear that free movement ends – it’s part of the core principles, the four key principles, of the European Union – when we leave.”
Pressed on whether it was a red line to end free movement in March 2019, he said: “It’s a simple matter of fact that the four key principles of the European Union include free movement – we won’t be a member of the European Union when we leave.”
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Discussing how immigration will work once Britain leaves the EU, Mr Lewis said: “There will be a new immigration system in place from the spring of 2019 and that will be outlined in the Immigration Bill that will go through Parliament next year.”
Ms Rudd said earlier that the Government cannot have a new immigration system ready for Brexit Day, after bowing to pressure from businesses who are worried about worker shortages.
Her proposals, outlined in the Financial Times, prompted confusion after Mr Lewis said free movement will end on the day of Brexit.
The British Chambers of Commerce (BCC) welcomed Ms Rudd’s promise that a “cliff edge” will be avoided, stating: “Amber Rudd has given EU nationals and their employers some much-needed reassurance, by signalling that any significant changes to the immigration rules for EU citizens will take place in an orderly fashion over time.”
Mr Lewis also maintained that it remained the Government’s “long-term aim” to bring immigration down to “sustainable levels”, but did not say when that would be achieved.
“(It is) our determination to see net migration fall to sustainable levels and we think that is around tens of thousands – it’s something we’ve had and continue to have as our long-term aim.”
Mr Lewis would not confirm if the target would be reached in this Parliament, and said: “If this was an easy thing to do we would have already done it.
“We cannot, people know, control our net migration levels fully until we leave the European Union.”
Senior Labour backbencher Frank Field reacted to the announcement by describing Mr Lewis’s comments as “alarming”.
He told the same programme: “I genuinely don’t think voters are looking for a cut-off point and will judge the Government accordingly.
“(Donald) Trump won in America on immigration – not because most people believed he would build a wall, but he convinced people that he was serious about trying to cut the numbers of immigrants no matter how long it took and I think that’s where the British electorate is and that’s where the Government ought to start to begin its negotiations.”
Mr Lewis’ comments came after Home Secretary Amber Rudd announced she will commission the Migration Advisory Committee (MAC) to carry out a detailed analysis of the role of EU nationals in the UK economy and society.
Top pic: Rex