May's post-Brexit EU immigration plans are 'unfeasible' and experts push for an extension on Freedom of Movement

David DavisVictoria Jones/PA Wire/PA ImagesBrexit Secretary David Davis.

LONDON — Theresa May’s government must accept that the free movement of people needs to continue for several years after Brexit, a leading advisory group has warned in a new report.

The Institute for Government, a group of academics and experts, has released a paper on Thursday urging Britain’s government to accept that a new immigration system will not be ready by the time Britain leaves the European Union in April 2019.

The report titled Implementing Brexit: Immigration argues Britain should continue with the free movement of people as part of a transitional arrangement until a new immigration system is ready to be put into place.

The free movement of people is a core principle of the EU and in practice, means EU citizens including Brits enjoy unrestricted, free movement across the 28-nation bloc, including in and out of the UK.

It was a key issue in the run-up to the June referendum, with Leave campaigners describing Brexit as an opportunity for Britain to “take back control” of its borders and put an end to “uncontrolled immigration” from the continent.

The scale of the task makes successful implementation of a new immigration regime by April 2019 unfeasible

“The scale of the task makes successful implementation of a new immigration regime by April 2019 unfeasible, not just for government, who will need to design and deliver the regime, but also the employers, landlords and providers of public services who both rely on the system and support its functioning,” the report says.

It adds: “The Prime Minister has recognised that an ‘implementation phase’ will be required post-Brexit. For immigration, this will require the continuation of free movement, possibly for several years post-Brexit.”

The report urges the government to clarify the rights of EU nationals living in the UK but warns that the Home Office is not equipped to handle the current residency process. The Home Office needs up to 5,000 more staff to deal with the number of applications likely to be submitted by EU citizens looking to stay in Britain, it says.

The Institute for Government report makes a number of recommendations, they are (paraphrased):

  • The government must clarify the rights of EU nationals living in the UK and provide them with documentation attesting to their status. Without that there will be confusion for employers, landlords and providers of public services, plus prolonged uncertainty for citizens.
  • The Home Office will likely need up to 5,000 additional staff to process applications if EU citizens looking to stay in the UK after Brexit are required to apply through the current residency process.
  • Theresa May’s government must recognise now that an immigration plan for post-Brexit EU migrants will not be ready by the time Britain leaves the EU in April 2019.
  • Because of this, the government should avoid unnecessary and potentially damaging disruption by making changes before a new regime is ready to go.
  • The government should also keep changes to the way in which EU citizens are processed at physical border checks to a minimum. This will improve the likelihood of both the UK and EU committing to maintain the Common Travel Area with the Republic of Ireland.
  • Ultimately, the government should use Brexit as a chance to design an immigration system that more effective for enforcement and simpler for the individuals and organisations involved to understand.

Joe Owen, an Institute for Government researcher and author of the report, said:

“Brexit is an opportunity to design an immigration system that is more effective for the country and less burdensome for employers. It’s important that the Government avoids making multiple changes and introducing unnecessary disruption and confusion.

“To provide stability, we should continue with the existing migration system until the new one is ready.”

Liberal Democrat leader Tim Farron said the report highlights Theresa May’s “unrealistic and potentially disastrous” Brexit plan. In a statement sent to Business Insider, Farron said:

“The Conservatives have no plan, they paint a picture of competence but this report shows that their vision is unrealistic and potentially disastrous.

“Theresa May was the Home Secretary during the referendum campaign and it is now becoming clear that she failed to plan for a leave vote.

“This Brexit government seems intent on pulling us out of the EU in the most brutal way possible — damaging our economy, jobs and public services. This election is your chance to change the direction of our country and get an opposition that will stand up to the Conservatives and get a better deal for you and your family.”

Business Insider has contacted the prime minister’s office for comment.

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