Ministers have been warned against causing further confusion over the post-Brexit future of EU citizens living in the UK.
Shadow home secretary Diane Abbott spoke of the “very real distress” that mixed messages from the government had caused more than three million EU citizens, their families and employers – warning the “clock is ticking” and further details are required soon.
Immigration minister Caroline Nokes earlier reaffirmed that EU citizens resident in the UK before Brexit would be “welcome to stay”.
Nokes made the comment in the Commons following her suggestion last week that employers would be expected to check whether EU nationals had the right to work in the UK if there was a no-deal Brexit.
Speaking in the Commons, Abbott said: “Does the minister accept that as we move towards leaving the EU, this type of confusion over policy is simply not acceptable.
“It’s not just the good faith of government that she’s calling into question, but it’s people’s lives that we are playing with and does the minister accept finally that it simply isn’t good enough to come before this House and talk about further information being provided in due course.
“It is five months to go and the clock is ticking, and we want no further confusions of this nature.”
Labour MP Yvette Cooper forced Nokes to appear before MPs after securing an urgent question.
Nokes earlier said: “The prime minister has already confirmed all EU citizens resident here by the 29 March, 2019 will be welcome to stay, they are part of our community and part of our country and we welcome the contribution they make.”
“We will set out further details shortly, so those affected can have the clarity and certainty they need,” she added.
Cooper, chairwoman of the Home Affairs Committee, said she remained “none the wiser” about the status of EU citizens in the event of a no-deal.
She added: “We’ve got the clock ticking and there is only five months left, surely the Home Office has got a grip of these basic questions.”
Nokes, responding to questions from Cooper, said employers “will need to check passport or ID cards, as they do now” when making a new job offer to UK or EU citizens.
She added: “We will not be asking employers to differentiate even if there is no-deal and she will of course be conscious that we are working hard to secure a deal.”
Nokes also said she wanted a “computer says yes attitude as opposed to computer says no” when it comes to processing applications from those seeking settled status.
Hilary Benn, Labour chairman of the Brexit Committee, said: “If the UK leaves the EU in March with no deal and if, as the minister has told the House this afternoon, employers will not be required to make any additional checks other than asking for an EU passport, then the minister has in effect told the House that free movement will continue after we’ve left the European Union.”
He asked how long such a situation would last, adding: “To many of us it’d seem it’ll have to continue until such time as the application process for settled status is completed because only at that point will employers be able to distinguish between people who have settled status and someone who arrived the previous day carrying an EU passport.”
Nokes replied: “As [home secretary] Sajid Javid indicated, we’re seeking a sensible transition period which will enable the Home Office to make sure that these cases can be case-worked clearly.
“The prime minister has been very clear – free movement will end and we will in due course set out the future immigration sensible, which will enable there to be further clarity.”