Border controls on EU migrants to be phased several years after Brexit, says White Paper
The Whitehall document setting out details of Theresa May's plans for leaving the EU revealed new entry arrangements could come into force gradually to "give businesses and individuals enough time to plan and prepare".
"There will be a phased process of implementation to prepare for the new arrangements," the ministerial "white paper" policy document, released yesterday, said.
It raised concern among campaigners that the Government may take many years after Brexit to achieve its target of reducing annual net migration to the "tens of thousands".
Publishing the white paper yesterday, EU Exit Secretary David Davis told MPs: "Our best days are still ahead of us."
The Whitehall document setting out details of Theresa May's plans for leaving the EU
Our best days are still ahead of us
He said the 77-page document detailing the Government's 12 aims and objectives for the forthcoming Brexit negotiations confirmed a vision of "an independent and truly global United Kingdom".
Speaking in the Commons, he said: "This document sets out our plan for the strong new partnership we want to build with the EU.
"Whatever the outcome of our negotiations, we will seek a more open, outward-looking, confident and fairer UK, which works for all."
The document fleshed out the details of the negotiation aims announced by the Prime Minister in her keynote speech last month about the UK's departure from the EU.
Taking control of the country's laws, protecting workers' rights, ensuring free trade with European markets and strengthening the UK were among the aims set out in the document.
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It also promised that controlling immigration would be a key priority for the Government after leaving the EU.
"We will create an immigration system that allows us to control numbers and encourage the brightest and the best to come to this country," the white paper said.
The "sheer volume" of the influx from other EU countries had "given rise to public concern about pressure on public services", the document added.
"Implementing any new immigration arrangements for EU nationals and the support they receive will be complex and Parliament will have an important role in considering these matter further.
The document fleshed out the details of the negotiation aims announced by the Prime Minister
"There may be a phased process of implementation to prepare for the new arrangements.
"This would give businesses and individuals enough time to plan and prepare for those new arrangements."
Campaigners have previously raised concerns that delays in tightening border controls could allow hundreds of thousands more EU migrants to settle in the UK.
Migration Watch warned against any "open-ended" phased introduction of tighter border rules.
Alp Mehmet, vice-chairman of the population think tank, said: "Let's see exactly what the Government is going to come up with but certainly there should not be any open-ended continuation of bringing in low-skilled, low-paid workers. That should stop and it should stop quickly."
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Ukip migration spokesman John Bickley said: "The devil is in the detail – this could be excellent or it could be disastrous.
"We will be watching very closely how the Government takes forward this proposal."
Mr Davis insisted the Government was seeking to quickly guarantee the rights of EU migrants already settled in the UK to stay after Brexit.
"On the question of EU nationals… I think I've got a track record actually of defending the interests of people who are under pressure," he said.
"I'm not going to be throwing people out of Britain and for you to suggest that is outrageous."
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He added: "The European Union nationals I want to see have all the rights they currently have.
"But I also want to see British citizens have their rights too.
"And we owe a moral responsibility, a moral debt, to the EU nationals here. But we owe a moral and legal debt to the citizens of Britain abroad, and we will protect both."
The Prime Minister's spokeswoman last night rejected suggestions that the phased implementation could mean the Government will take a decade to reach its net migration target.
She said: “I don’t accept that. It depends on what arrangements are put in place.
Mrs May said businesses and voters overwhelmingly wanted to the Government to press ahead
"We are leaving the EU which means we will be able to control our own immigration policy.”
In a foreword to the document, the Prime Minister wrote: "We do not approach these negotiations expecting failure but anticipating success because we are a great, global nation with so much to offer Europe and so much to offer the world."
Mrs May said businesses and voters overwhelmingly wanted to the Government to press ahead with delivering on the verdict of last year's EU referendum vote to leave the EU.
"Business isn't calling to reverse the result but planning to make a success of it.
"The House of Commons has voted overwhelmingly for us to get on with it.
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"And the overwhelming majority of people – however they voted – want us to get on with it too. So that is what we will do."
The white paper was optimistic about Britain's chances of securing the "freest and most frictionless deal in goods and services between the EU and the EU" possible.
It pointed out that while the UK exported goods and services worth a total of £230billion to the EU in 2015, the UK imported £291billion worth of goods and services from the EU in the same year.
The £61billion trade deficit meant the EU had a strong incentive to continue open trade links with Britain.
UK imports to Germany exceeded exports in value by £25billion in 2015 while the figure was more than £37billion for the Netherlands and France and £20billion for Italy, Germany and Spain.
Richard Tice, co-chairman of the pressure group Leave Means Leave, said: “We welcome the Prime Minister's commitment to take back control of Britain's borders in the White Paper.
“We do, however, require more detail on the suggestion that there may be a “phased process" to prepare for new immigration arrangements.
“It has been made crystal clear that freedom of movement to Britain will cease but until a cut-off point is set, we remain open to every EU citizen.
"We have already warned that based on historical NINO figures Britain could easily see another 1 -1.25 million extra EU migrants move to Britain over the next two years.
"Our public services cannot cope with this.
“Immigration control must start immediately. We urge more clarification on this extremely important point."