Free movement of people 'will end in 2019'

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Free movement of people will end in 2019, the Immigration Minister has said.

Brandon Lewis said freedom of movement was one of the “core principles” of the European Union, and that a new immigration system would be in place when Britain formally quits the bloc in March 2019.  

He 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.”

His comments came after Home Secretary Amber Rudd announced plans for a thorough investigation of the roles EU nationals play in the UK’s economy by the Migration Advisory Committee.

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.”

He also told the programme 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 added. 

He would not confirm if the target would be reached during the current 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.”

The prospect of ending freedom of movement has sparked concerns from the business community.

Ufi Ibrahim, chief executive of the British Hospitality Association, said up to 35 per cent of the staff in the capital’s restaurants, bars, cafes and hotels were from the European Union. If many quit Britain or new controls severely limit how many can enter, some firms would struggle to survive, she claimed.

Senior Labour backbencher Frank Field branded Mr Lewis’s comments “alarming”, and 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.”

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