By Kylie MacLellan
LONDON (Reuters) – Britain said on Monday it would end European Union freedom of movement rules immediately after it leaves the bloc on Oct. 31 but Prime Minister Boris Johnson said the country would not be hostile to immigration.
Under Johnson’s predecessor, Theresa May, the government had said only that if Britain left the EU without a transition deal it would aim to end free movement “as soon as possible”.
Johnson, who took office last month, has promised to take Britain out of the EU with or without a deal on Oct. 31.
“Freedom of movement as it currently stands will end on 31 October when the UK leaves the EU, and after Brexit the government will introduce a new, fairer immigration system that prioritises skills and what people can contribute to the UK, rather than where they come from,” a spokesman for Britain’s interior ministry, the Home Office, said in a statement.
Johnson’s spokeswoman said further details on the changes to freedom of movement were being worked on and would be set out shortly but would include tougher criminality checks.
“What we are going to do is leave the EU and that means that legally all those powers revert to the UK…That does not mean that we are going to stop anybody coming into this country, it doesn’t mean that we are going to become remotely hostile to immigration or to immigrants,” Johnson told BBC Radio Cornwall.
“What it does mean is that immigration into the UK will be democratically controlled and we will be producing an Australian-style points-based system to do it.”
Adam Marshall, Director General at the British Chambers of Commerce, said businesses had planned on the basis of no-deal guidance set out by the Home Office seven months ago.
“Now, with weeks to go, hints that it’s all up in the air again. Firms need clarity and consistency to prepare for change,” he said on Twitter.
The Home Office said there would be no change to planned rules for EU citizens and their families already living in Britain by the end of October, who would still have until at least the end of December 2020 to apply to Britain’s EU Settlement Scheme.
No one eligible for settled status would be barred from re-entering Britain when free movement ends, the Home Office said.
Joe Owen, programme director at the Institute for Government think tank, said the planned change was “close to impossible” on a practical level as it would require designing, legislating for and rolling out a new system in just over two months. It would also leave millions of EU citizens in limbo, he said.
“There would be no way for employers to distinguish between those EU citizens who have lived and worked in the UK for decades, but are yet to get settled status, and those who arrive in the days after a no-deal Brexit without a visa or permission to work,” he said.
(Reporting by Kylie MacLellan; Editing by Mark Heinrich, William Maclean)