Leaked Brexit proposals blow transitional plans out of water

Home office document on free movement of people represents hardening of approach

 British prime minister Theresa May leaving No 10 Downing Street on Wednesday. The government’s initial response to the leak has been cautious. Photograph:  Will Oliver/EPA

British prime minister Theresa May leaving No 10 Downing Street on Wednesday. The government’s initial response to the leak has been cautious. Photograph: Will Oliver/EPA

 

The proposals on immigration outlined in a leaked home office document would represent a hardening of Britain’s approach to Brexit, making impossible the kind of transitional arrangement floated by Theresa May’s ministers in recent weeks.

The document, which was leaked to the Guardian, calls for free movement of people from the European Union to end as soon as Britain leaves.

Companies would have to show they were unable to find qualified British workers before offering jobs to EU nationals, who would need to register with the home office to be allowed to work. Unskilled workers could be told to leave after two years and even the most highly-skilled, such as doctors and engineers, could have permits lasting just three years.

The good news for Ireland is that the document suggests that the Common Travel Area should continue to offer free movement between Britain and Ireland.

“There will be no practical change from now,” it says.

EU citizens in Ireland would continue to be able to enter Britain freely, although they would face restrictions if they try to work in the United Kingdom.

The home office traditionally takes a more restrictive approach to immigration than economic ministries such as the treasury and business. Although the document is dated August 7th, it appears to reflect an approach to Brexit that has been overtaken by events since June’s election.

During the summer, ministers such as chancellor of the exchequer Philip Hammond and Brexit secretary David Davis made clear that they favoured a transitional arrangement after Brexit which will be as close to the status quo as possible. This position was reinforced last week by Labour’s change of policy in favour of remaining in the single market and a customs union for a few years after leaving the EU.

The government’s initial response to the leak has been cautious, with ministers stressing that its official policy on immigration after Brexit will not be not be published until later this year. Downing Street does not comment on leaked documents and May faced few questions on the issue during prime minister’s questions.

Jeremy Corbyn avoided the subject of immigration during his questions to the prime minister, perhaps because his own party is divided over what restrictions EU migrants should face after Brexit. The home office proposals were welcomed, however, by hardline Brexiteers and their supporters in the media, a response that will not be lost on the prime minister as she seeks to tighten her grip on the keys to No 10.

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