The British government has said it will end European Union freedom of movement rules immediately in the event of a no-deal Brexit on October 31.
The move is a departure from UK prime minister Boris Johnson's predecessor, Theresa May, who had said the government would end free movement "as soon as possible" if the UK left the EU without a withdrawal deal, suggesting the rules could be phased out.
Announcing the work, the PM's official spokeswoman said: "Freedom of movement as it currently stands will end on October 31.
Freedom of movement as it currently stands will end on October 31"
"We will introduce immediately much tougher criminality rules for people entering the UK."
Hours after the statement, the Home Office released a statement reassuring EU nationals that they and their families were "welcome to stay" in the UK and the deadline for applying to the EU settlement scheme remained December 2020.
"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."
Was told EU Settlement helpline had many calls from employers asking if it was legal to sack someone for being EU citizen. They advised it would now be illegal, but after 31st Oct, if No Deal & end of FOM, it would be legal to sack an EU citizen if they've not applied to scheme.— Nora Mulready (@NoraMulready) August 19, 2019
Despite the government's assurances that the program does not leave EU residents in "legal limbo" and grants them time to apply, citizens' rights activists have raised doubts over the execution of the program.
Nicolas Hatton, head of the3million group of EU citizens in the UK, saying: "This will open the door to discrimination. There are no systems in place. This is a political gesture, but it will have a real impact on people's lives."
Hatton added, "How will they distinguish between the ‘legacy people', those already here, and those who will arrive afterwards?"
There are over 3.4 million EU citizens in Britain and the UK government has promised to secure their right to stay through its settled or pre-settled status scheme.
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Business leaders expressed frustration at the confused messaging at a time when companies were already struggling to plan for the impact of no deal. "With only weeks to go until October 31, announcing a unilateral end to freedom of movement in the event of no deal piles further pressure on businesses," said Jasmine Whitbread, head of the business lobby London First. "Planning ahead is impossible when rules of the game continually change.
Adam Marshall, director-general of the British Chambers of Commerce, warned that "at a time of critical labour shortages, UK firms need continued access to skills at all levels to fill local shortages when they arise".
Boris Johnson has sent a letter to EU officials calling for the Irish border backstop to be removed from the Brexit withdrawal agreement, but presented no actual alternative to the policy - which has already been repeatedly rejected by the EU side.
Donald Tusk, the president of the European Council, effectively accused the prime minister of wanting to wind the clock back on the Northern Ireland peace process, as well as a deception.
"The backstop is an insurance to avoid a hard border on the island of Ireland unless and until an alternative is found," Mr Tusk said. "Those against the backstop and not proposing realistic alternatives in fact support reestablishing a border. Even if they do not admit it."
In response to Johnson's letter, one EU diplomat told Politico: "It's clear from the letter that renegotiation is the last thing the British government wants. Brexit started and ends with preservation of the Tory party."
Johnson is set to travel to Berlin and Paris this week for his first bilateral meetings with German chancellor Angela Merkel and French president Emmanuel Macron, where he will further discuss his position on Brexit.