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Freedom of movement for EU citizens to come to Britain will end in March 2019, a minister declared today as the Government’s immigration policy was plunged into growing confusion.
Immigration minister Brandon Lewis insisted that the Conservatives were still committed to reducing net migration to tens of thousands a year, as laid out in the party’s election manifesto.
But he insisted that this goal, of getting the number down below 100,000 from around 250,000, was a “long-term” aim and he was unable to say when it would be achieved.
Mr Lewis was also grilled on BBC radio over whether a report ordered by Home Secretary Amber Rudd into Britain’s needs for EU migrants would be released in time for Brexit, given that the final version is only due to be delivered in the autumn of next year.
He insisted there would be interim reports by the independent Migration Advisory Committee and that a new immigration system would be outlined in a White Paper later this year.
But the Government risked appearing to be seen to be severing links with the EU while cobbling together new structures to replace existing ones such as on immigration.
“Free movement of labour ends when we leave the European Union in the spring of 2019,” Mr Lewis said.
Asked why current free trade and single market access arrangements would not necessarily also end then, he added: “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.”
However, Whitehall sources stressed that similar arrangements could be put in place during a transition phase which could last two years, or possibly even three. Ending free movement will also have an impact on Britons wanting to work in the EU.
This week, “soft Brexit” Cabinet ministers — including Ms Rudd, Chancellor Philip Hammond and Business Secretary Greg Clark — have been strengthening the case to put jobs and the economy ahead of clamping down on immigration in a new trade deal with the EU.
Their moves came as Brexiteer Cabinet ministers, International Trade Secretary Liam Fox, Foreign Secretary Boris Johnson, Brexit Secretary David Davis and Transport Secretary Chris Grayling have all been out of the country, as is Prime Minister Theresa May.
On a visit to Australia, Mr Johnson said he was not aware of the new report but believed in “the value of immigration and the value of having an open approach to it”. Speaking at a press conference in Sydney, he said: “As a society, as a city of London, we benefited massively from having talent come to our shores.
“It is fantastic for the energy and dynamism of the economy … That doesn’t mean you can’t control it.”
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