No 10 has admitted it has yet to decide whether free movement of EU citizens will continue after a no-deal Brexit, with less than five months until departure day.

The “work is ongoing”, Theresa May’s spokesman said, after the home secretary and a senior Home Office civil servant contradicted each other within 24 hours.

Sajid Javid said there would have to be “sensible transition period” during which new EU arrivals could continue to work – one day after his official said free movement would be “turned off”.

Asked which was correct, the spokesman said: “The work is ongoing and we will set out the details in due course.”

Privately, ministers are believed to accept that it is inevitable that free movement would have to continue, because it will be impossible to quickly bring down the shutters.

Yet, on Tuesday, Shona Dunn, the Home Office’s second permanent secretary, told MPs: “If [a no-deal Brexit] were the case, the prime minister has been very clear that she would want free movement turned off at that point in time.

“So, it would be our intention to have it done at that point in time. There will be a number of bits of secondary legislation, I would imagine.”

Labour leapt on the confusion as fresh evidence that the government is “in a complete mess over Brexit”.

“It looks like they are still negotiating with themselves, but the issue of EU citizens’ rights is too important to be left up in the air until the very last minute,” said Diane Abbott, the shadow home secretary.

“The Tories cannot continue to play games with people’s lives like this.”

And Layla Moran, a Liberal Democrat supporter of the anti-Brexit Best for Britain group, said: “It's a farce. If the Home Office can't even get its own ministers and officials to agree on policy, let alone get that past No.10, how can we possibly expect to come to a wide ranging and complex agreement with 27 other nations”

The uncertainty was revealed after the immigration minister, Caroline Nokes, was forced to u-turn after saying employers would have to check if EU nationals had the right to work, or were newly-arrived.

The Home Office they would “not be expected to differentiate between resident EU citizens and those arriving after exit”, even if the UK crashed out of the bloc without a deal.

Asked, on ITV’s Peston programme, if he accepted such checks would be “pointless”, Mr Javid replied: “We’ve just got to be practical.

“If there's a no-deal, we won’t be able to immediately distinguish between those Europeans that were already here before March 29, and those who came after – and therefore, as a result, I wouldn’t expect employers to do anything different than they do today.

“There will need to be some kind of sensible transition period. I mean, these are the kinds of things I’ve been working on for months and months.”

The No 10 spokesman denied Mr Javid and his top civil servant had contradicted each other, saying: “Planning for a no-deal outcome is ongoing and we will be able to set out the government’s position in due course.”

He declined to say that work would be done by the end of the year, but claimed: “No-deal preparations are continuing at pace.”



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