Brexit: UK-EU freedom of movement ‘to end in March 2019’

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Media captionAmber Rudd on ‘implementation phase’

A new immigration system will be in place by March 2019 when the free movement of people between the EU and the UK ends, a minister has said.

Immigration Minister Brandon Lewis was speaking as the government commissioned a “detailed assessment” of the costs and benefits of EU migrants.

That report is expected in September 2018, six months before Brexit.

Home Secretary Amber Rudd has promised business there will be no “cliff edge” on immigration.

Speaking during a visit to Troon, South Ayrshire, she said the government’s final EU migration policy would be drawn up after the committee has produced its report.

In the meantime, she said, there would be an “implementation phase” which would involve new EU workers registering their details when they come to the UK.

The CBI said businesses “urgently” needed to know what EU migration would look like, both in any “transitional” period after March 2019 and beyond.

Ministers have also promised an “extensive” consultation to listen to the views of businesses, unions and universities.

Immigration was one of the central topics of last year’s EU referendum campaign, and ministers have promised to “take back control” of the UK’s borders as they negotiate Brexit.

An immigration bill, which will reveal the government’s chosen method, was included in last month’s Queen’s Speech.

Speaking on BBC Radio 4’s Today programme, Mr Lewis would not confirm details of how the government plans to manage migration after Brexit, saying these would be revealed in a white paper later this year, and that the immigration bill would go through Parliament in 2018.

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Media captionFreedom of movement will end “in the spring of 2019”, immigration minister Brandon Lewis tells Today

Ministers have promised an implementation period after Brexit to try and minimise the economic and social impact of the UK leaving the EU.

Mr Lewis said it was a “simple matter of fact” that EU free movement rules would not apply during this time, and that a new system would be in place by Spring 2019.

He was also pressed on the Conservative manifesto pledge to reduce overall net migration – currently 248,000 – to the tens of thousands.

He confirmed this was party policy but would not set an “arbitrary” year by which this would be achieved.

The Home Office has asked the advisory committee to consider the regional distribution of EU migration, which sectors are most reliant on it, and the role of temporary and seasonal workers.

Costs and benefits

The Migration Advisory Committee’s report will study the “economic and social costs and benefits of EU migration to the UK economy”, its impact on competitiveness, and whether there would be benefits to focusing migration on high-skilled jobs.

Home Secretary Amber Rudd said: “We will ensure we continue to attract those who benefit us economically, socially and culturally.

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Media captionI’m “flabbergasted” it has taken 13 months to ask “basic questions” about EU migration, says Yvette Cooper

“But, at the same time, our new immigration system will give us control of the volume of people coming here – giving the public confidence we are applying our own rules on who we want to come to the UK and helping us to bring down net migration to sustainable levels.”

Speaking in Sydney, Foreign Secretary Boris Johnson said he was unaware of the report that has been commissioned, adding that immigration had been “fantastic for the energy and dynamism of the economy” but “that doesn’t mean that you can’t control it”.

Labour said there should be no changes to the UK’s migration system until the committee’s report had been completed and debated.

Shadow home secretary Diane Abbott said: “There is far too much heat and not enough light about immigration, so any truly objective and well-informed analysis must be welcome.”

‘First step’

Lib Dem home affairs spokesman Sir Ed Davey said the move would “do nothing to reassure the hospitals that are already seeing record numbers of EU nurses leaving, or the companies struggling to recruit the staff they need”.

“The NHS, businesses and universities that depend on European citizens need answers now, not in another 14 months’ time,” he added.

Former Labour minister Frank Field, who campaigned for Brexit, told Today he did not think voters were looking for a cut off point for freedom of movement.

“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,” he said.

“And I think that’s where the British electorate is and that’s where the government ought to start to begin its negotiations.”

The CBI said commissioning the report was a “sensible first step”, adding: “Workers from across Europe strengthen our businesses and help our public services run more smoothly – any new migration system should protect these benefits while restoring public confidence.”

Manufacturers’ organisation EEF said the migration committee was “best placed” to advise on what EU migration should look like after Brexit.

Both EEF and the CBI called for an immediate resolution of the question of the status of EU nationals already living in the UK.


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