UK will end free movement ‘as soon as possible’ in case of no deal Brexit

The UK Government will seek to end the free movement of European citizens “as soon as possible,” if Britain leaves the European Union without a deal, it said Monday.

The announcement comes as Parliament prepares to resume the Brexit debate Tuesday amid dire warnings from UK businesses of the potential negative effects of a “no deal” exit.

Britain’s scheduled departure from the EU is due to take place on March 29. There is currently no clear agreement for how the UK will leave the bloc that has the support of both Parliament and other European states.

Free movement is a central tenet of the European Union, guaranteeing the rights of citizens from the 27 member states to travel to and apply for work in any other without a prior job offer.

May’s Conservative Party has long pledged to end free movement as part of a Brexit deal, a move that could have ramifications for British citizens as well, more than a million of whom live in other European countries.

On Monday, British Home Secretary Sajid Javid said a “no deal” situation would not halt government plans to “end free movement once and for all.”

From March 29, Javid said, EU citizens wanting to come to the UK “will need to apply for permission and receive European Temporary Leave to Remain” in order to stay longer than three months.

“EU citizens wishing to stay for longer than 3 years will need to make a further application under the new skills-based future immigration system, which will begin from 2021,” he said in a statement.

The new rules do not apply “to those here before exit day, whose rights to live and work will be protected by the EU Settlement Scheme,” Javid added. “We want them to stay and value them hugely.”

‘We fear significant disruption’

While Javid was insistent the arrangements to end free movement would “minimize disruption to ensure the UK stays open for business,” his statement comes against a background of renewed warnings by major corporations of the risks of a “no deal” situation.

In a letter to lawmakers Monday, a dozen top British business leaders, including the chief executives of McDonald’s and KFC and many major supermarket chains, urged the government and Parliament to “find a solution that avoids the shock of a no deal Brexit on March 29.”

“While we have been working closely with our suppliers on contingency plans it is not possible to mitigate all the risks to our supply chains and we fear significant disruption in the short term … if there is no Brexit deal,” the letter said.

“Our ability to mitigate these risks is limited. As prudent businesses we are stockpiling where possible, but all frozen and chilled storage is already being used and there is very little general warehousing space available in the UK.”

A spokesman for British Prime Minister Theresa May sought to downplay concerns, saying the UK has a “high level of food security” with or without a Brexit deal, but the letter comes after months of warnings about potential food and fuel shortages, transport delays, and a massive hit to the economy, that could accompany a “no deal” exit.

Lawmakers will renew the Brexit debate after 11:30 a.m. GMT (6:30 a.m. ET) Tuesday.