After days of confusion and contradicting statements on Brexit and limiting immigration after 2019, the government has been slammed for acting too slowly and indecisively.
On Monday, Downing Street attempted to quell confusion over EU migration during a so-called post-Brexit ‘transition period’, insisting free movement would officially end when the UK leaves the bloc – but they failed to give any details about what would change.
“Other elements of the post-Brexit immigration system will be brought forward in due course. It would be wrong to speculate on what these might look like or to suggest that free movement will continue as it is now,” the statement read.
Chancellor Philip Hammond had insisted the week before that cabinet members had agreed a ‘transition period’ would run until 2022, with Home Secretary Amber Rudd claiming migrants would need to register during this time.
Sources later revealed the migration rules in this period would look “similar” to free movement, however, and International Trade Secretary Liam Fox and Foreign Secretary Boris Johnson denied they had agreed to it.
Some Brexiteers were suspicious, accusing the government of a fudge and a “betrayal” on promises to bring migration down after Brexit.
Furthermore, with important British negotiating positions still undecided weeks before trade talks could start, a senior government figure told The Times: “Of course decisions are not being taken quick enough.”
Supporters of Mr. Hammond and Ms. Rudd – who campaigned against Brexit – hit back at Mr. Johnson and Fox, who supported leaving the European Union.
One source said that in cabinet meetings and subcommittees the pro-Brexit ministers had sought to paper over the cracks. “They say it’s all easy. When there are problems they guffaw. They pooh-pooh difficulties when Hammond raises them.”
Another said that Mr. Johnson had slammed colleagues for not being “optimistic” about Brexit.
Andrew Percy, a backbench Tory Brexiteer who backs the ‘transition plan’, told the paper: “The current principles of free movement have to end. Of course we need to maintain flexibility but it cannot retain the current rules because that would not be delivering the will of the people.
“The only views we need to hear are of the government, not members of the government who can come and go. If they want to express views as individuals they need to quit and make their views known as backbenchers.”
Even Remain supporters conceded that Mr. Hammond was not always the best messenger. “He’s never going to fill you with optimism,” a minister said.