Free movement of EU citizens to Britain will end in March 2019, Theresa May’s spokesman has said.
Downing Street said on Monday it was “wrong” to suggest free movement would “continue as it is now” once Britain leaves the EU.
It comes following days of confusion and rumours of infighting between Cabinet colleagues over the crucial issue of immigration after Brexit.
Tory Brexit tensions have heightened after Chancellor Philip Hammond and Home Secretary Amber Rudd backed transitional arrangements once the UK leaves the bloc. which suggested EU migration could continue with a registration scheme.
But leading Brexiteer and International Trade Secretary Liam Fox said unregulated free movement of labour after Brexit would “not keep faith” with the EU referendum result.
He added that the Cabinet had not agreed a stance on immigration.
The Prime Minister’s official spokesman insisted the Government’s position remained as set out by Mrs May in her Lancaster House speech on Brexit.
“The Prime Minister’s position on an implementation period is very clear and well-known,” he said.
“Free movement will end in March 2019. We have published proposals on citizens’ rights. Last week, the Home Secretary said there will be a registration system for migrants arriving post-March 2019.
“Other elements of the post-Brexit immigration system will be brought forward in due course. It would be wrong to speculate on what these might look like or to suggest that free movement will continue as it is now.”
Downing Street acknowledged “it will take time to get immigration numbers down” but the Government remained committed to the aim.
Chancellor Mr Hammond said on Friday’s Radio 4 Today programme there was “broad acceptance” in Cabinet of a post-Brexit transitional period lasting up to three years.
He said this would mean “many arrangements remaining very similar to how they were the day before we exited the European Union”.
Mr Hammond said there would be a registration system in place for people coming to work in the UK after Brexit, during the transitional period.
But in an interview with the Sunday Times, Dr Fox said he not been involved in any Cabinet talks on extending free movement for up to three years after Brexit.
In remarks that were seen as directed at the Chancellor, Dr Fox said: “I am very happy to discuss whatever transitional arrangements and whatever implementation agreement we might want, but that has to be an agreement by the Cabinet.
“It can’t just be made by an individual or any group within the Cabinet.”
Number 10 dismissed the idea that the UK was seeking an “off-the-shelf” model for the transitional period, as Mr Hammond had reportedly told business leaders.
“We are not looking for an off-the-shelf model. Precise details of what the implementation period looks like are for negotiation,” the spokesman said.
Defence Secretary Sir Michael Fallon and Health Secretary Jeremy Hunt sought to play down reports of a row within Mrs May’s top team.
Sir Michael, taking part in Passchendaele memorial events in Ypres, said the issue of immigration policy during a transitional deal would be “one of the details” for the Brexit negotiations.
He said: “It’s not an argument, it’s part of the negotiations.
“We have always understood that we have to ensure immigration is managed properly, that’s what the public expect to see – that there are controls of it.
“That’s one of the details that’s going to be sorted out during the negotiations. It’s not an argument raging around the Cabinet table.”
Health Secretary Mr Hunt insisted the Cabinet was “completely united”, telling BBC Radio 4’s Today programme: “It has to be a Brexit that works for business, it has to work for the NHS, the NHS needs to recruit doctors and nurses from all over Europe and that is going to continue after we leave the European Union.”
Foreign Secretary Boris Johnson’s spokesman forced to dismiss a suggestion that he was about to quit over the way Brexit was being handled.
Mr Hammond also used an interview with Le Monde to downplay claims Britain could try to become a Singapore-style low-tax economy if it does not get the Brexit deal it wants – appearing to contradict his earlier position on the UK’s potential future.
He said: “I would expect us to remain a country with a social, economic and cultural model that is recognisably European.”
Shadow Treasury chief secretary Peter Dowd said: “This Government has broken down into farce.
“The Chancellor is not only disagreeing with Cabinet colleagues over Brexit, he is now in open dispute with himself given it is only his own comments on the matter in January which he is pretending to contradict.”
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