Theresa May has hinted that free movement of EU citizens could continue during an “implementation period” after the UK has left the European Union.
Speaking during her trip to the Middle East, the Prime Minister said there would need to be a transitional phase to enable businesses to adjust after the country’s formal exit in spring 2019.
Asked whether she would “rule out free movement in any transitional period once we leave the EU”, May responded: “You’ve used the phrase transitional phase; I have used the phrase implementation period.”
She added: “If you think about it, once we’ve got the deal, once we’ve agreed what the new relationship will be for the future, it will be necessary for there to be a period of time when businesses and governments are adjusting systems and so forth, depending on the nature of the deal, a period of time during which that deal will be implemented.”
This could mean that EU workers employed in the UK and UK workers employed in EU countries could continue to enjoy the same rights to freedom of movement until after the next general election in 2020.
The EU’s own draft guidelines for the Brexit negotiations indicate that Britain’s exit should include transitional arrangements, which must be “clearly defined, limited in time, and subject to effective enforcement mechanisms”.
There are few firm details yet on the Government’s post-Brexit immigration policies, however. In February, home secretary Amber Rudd said that Brexit would spell “the end of free movement as we know it”, but that businesses would be consulted this summer on new immigration controls.
Labour’s Brexit spokesman, Paul Blomfield, said: “It is less than a week since the Prime Minister triggered Article 50, and it seems every day brings another broken promise.
“They need to spell out the transitional deal that will be in place, to stop the economy falling off a cliff edge without new agreements in two years’ time.”