Tory minister says free movement will end on the day Britain quits the EU
Free movement of EU nationals to the UK will end in March 2019 - with a completely new immigration system in place and ready to go, the Immigration Minister revealed today.
It means the Government will have just six months to implement the recommendations of a report it has commissioned on what the UK's future border controls should look like.
But Brandon Lewis repeatedly refused to commit to getting net migration down to below 100,000 by 2022 - despite insisting it remained a Tory ambition.
The Government has asked the Migration Advisory Council to set out what impact a cut in numbers would have on the economy to help it form its post-Brexit immigration system.
But the council will report back in September of next year - just six months before the end of the two-year Article 50 negotiation period.
Mr Lewis today refused to lay out any details of what he thought the new migration system might look like, but he did insist it would be in place by March 2019 when Britain exits the bloc.
"Freedom of movement ends in the spring of 2019," he told Radio 4’s Today programme.
“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.”
But some confusion remains after Home Secretary Amber Rudd assured businesses there would be a transitional period to smooth adjustment to the new rules.
It comes after No 10 told journalists there would be a “phased” period of implementation on immigration controls, after reports free movement could go on for up to four years after Brexit.
Critics slammed the Government for only starting to look at its post-Brexit immigration plan a year after Britain voted to quit the EU.
Heidi Alexander, the Labour MP who supports the anit-Brexit Open Britain group, said: “It beggars belief that the government have taken a year to get round to asking for expert evidence on the role played by EU nationals in our country.”
She added: “Our immigration policy has been governed by anecdote and scaremongering, rather than evidence, since the moment Theresa May set foot in the Home Office in 2010.
“The timing of this announcement shows the total lack of preparation and understanding that has typified this government’s attitude to Brexit so far.”
TENS OF THOUSANDS
Meanwhile, Mr Lewis refused to set what he called a “particular arbitrary year” on when the Government plans to cut net migration to the tens of thousands.
The pledge was repeated in the 2017 Conservative manifesto despite the embarrassing failure to meet it since it was first made by David Cameron in 2010.
In June Theresa May suggested ministers were aiming to bring net migration down to below tens of thousands by the next general election in 2022.
But Mr Lewis said today: “If this was an easy thing to do we would have already done it…
“It is the Government’s intention, it’s Conservative party policy…It’s about getting it [net migration] down to sustainable levels once we get control of [our] borders which we do do after 2019.”
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