Free movement of EU citizens to Britain will end when the country leaves the EU in March 2019, Downing Street has said, moving to contain a Cabinet row over immigration after Brexit.
As senior ministers appeared to contradict each other for days over the issue, Theresa May’s spokesman insisted there is “broad agreement” in the Government to make Brexit as smooth as possible.
The spokesman said proposals for a new immigration system after Brexit will be brought forward “in due course” and added: “It would be wrong to speculate on what these might look like or to suggest that free movement will continue as it is now.”
With Mrs May away on a three-week holiday, tensions have heightened among the Conservatives.
Divisions burst into the open after Chancellor Philip Hammond and Home Secretary Amber Rudd said they backed transitional arrangements after the UK leaves the bloc, suggesting EU migration could continue.
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Mr Hammond said last week that there should be no immediate change to immigration rules when Britain leaves the bloc, adding that there would be a registration system in place for people coming to work in the UK during the transitional period.
But in an interview for The Sunday Times, International Trade Secretary Liam Fox said that any such move would “not keep faith” with the referendum result.
He said the Cabinet had not agreed a stance on immigration.
And a spokesman for Boris Johnson was forced to dismiss a suggestion that the Foreign Secretary was considering quitting the Government in protest at the way Brexit was being handled.
The Prime Minister’s spokesman said Mr Johnson was “doing an excellent job”.
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He said details of a post-Brexit implementation period were a matter for negotiations, he added, but Britain is not seeking an “off-the-shelf” solution.
According to the Financial Times, Mr Hammond told business leaders that he hoped for an “off-the-shelf” transition deal with Brussels to maintain current trading relations with Europe for at least two years after Brexit.
Number 10’s comments came as Cabinet ministers Jeremy Hunt and Sir Michael Fallon sought to play down reports of a Cabinet split.
Mr Fallon, taking part in Passchendaele memorial events in Ypres, Belgium, said the issue of immigration policy during a transitional deal would be “one of the details” for the Brexit negotiations.
He told Sky News: “All of us, whichever way we vote back in the referendum, we are determined to make a success of us leaving the European Union,” adding that “you mustn’t believe everything you read in the newspapers.”
Mr Hunt, the Health Secretary, told BBC Radio 4’s Today programme that the Cabinet was “completely united”.