Freedom of movement will end as soon as Britain leaves the EU, the immigration minister has said, as the government prepares a survey on the benefits of migration from the bloc.
Brandon Lewis also confirmed that the government intended to reduce net immigration to the tens of thousands – a promise the Conservatives have failed to keep since taking office in 2010 – though he refused to say it would be achieved within this parliament.“Free movement of labour ends when we leave the European Union in the spring of 2019. I’ll be very clear about that,” Lewis told BBC Radio 4’s Today programme on Thursday.
“Obviously, 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 four key principles of the European Union. When we leave, that, by definition, ends,” Lewis said.His comments appear to run counter to recent reports that the government is willing to allow freedom of movement to continue during a transitional period lasting three or four years.
The remarks are likely to alarm businesses, which would have less than two years to prepare for an end to free movement of labour with the EU. However, it could be that while freedom of movement technically ends with Brexit, the arrangements are still replicated during an implementation phase.
In a sign this may be the case, Lewis reiterated the Conservatives’ commitment to reducing net immigration to a less than 100,000 people a year, but he refused to say it would be met by the end of the parliament, claiming that it was impossible to do so while freedom of movement remained.