Britain will introduce strict curbs on EU migration immediately after Brexit to force all but the most highly-skilled to leave after two years, a leaked Home Office report has shown.
The 82-page document. leaked to The Guardian, suggests free movement will end immediately upon leaving in March 2019, with a “more selective approach” to EU migration and businesses being urged to “meet their needs from resident labour”.
Those arriving for more than six months may be required to register for residence cards, including being fingerprinted, it says.
The paper, marked as “extremely sensitive” and dated August 2017, sets out for the first time in detail how the UK will approach EU migration, with a heavy emphasis on putting British workers first. Businesses would have to complete an “economic needs test” before hiring European labour, it suggests.
‘Put plainly, this means that, to be considered valuable to the country as a whole, immigration should benefit not just the migrants themselves but also make existing residents better off,’ the paper says.
In a move which will cheer hardcore Brexiteers in the Conservative Party but dismay business, lower-skilled EU workers would be permitted to stay in the UK for no more than two years. Those in ‘high-skilled occupations’ would be granted permits to stay for between three and five years.
“The government will take a view on the economic and social needs of the country as regards EU migration, rather than leaving this decision entirely to those wishing to come here and employers,” it states.
The leaked paper also suggests ending the right of most European migrants to settle in the UK and placing new restrictions on their rights to bring family members into the country.
It would appear to fly in the face of reassurances given to business during the summer by Philip Hammond, who had suggested the only change in the post-Brexit transition period would be for EU citizens to register their presence. Under the floated plans, anyone staying for more than a few months would have to obtain permission from the Home Office, even during the transition period.
The Times reported that the plans had provoked a cabinet split and unhappiness across Whitehall, prompting attempts by ministers including Amber Rudd, the Home Secretary, to soften more of the more draconian elements.
Tellingly, the paper quoted a source as saying: ‘This [document] was drawn up by Home Office officials still working to Theresa May rather than Amber Rudd. She has been working to modify this significantly and it is not where the Government is any more.’
The plans are unlikely to find much favour among the 27-nation bloc, which may see it as the UK making EU nationals second-class citizens, and could provoke retaliatory measures in the Brexit negotiations.
Yvette Cooper, chair of the Commons Home Affairs Select Committe, said the document directly contradicted Ms Rudd’s commitment earlier this summer to consult on a post-Brexit immigration system.
She said: “The process for developing its policy seems to be completely confused. What assessment has been done of the impact or the interrelationship between immigration proposals and any trade or single market deal?”
But it was predictably cheered by Lord Green, chairman of right-wing pressure group Migration Watch, who told the BBC the document’s thinking was “excellent news”.
A spokesman for the Government said it did not comment on “leaked draft” documents.