People from the EU should face the same immigration rules as those from elsewhere, once the UK has completely left the bloc, the cabinet has agreed.

The agreement in principle follows a recommendation of the independent Migration Advisory Committee (MAC), which was also backed by Labour.

The cabinet unanimously supported a system based on skills rather than nationality, a source told the BBC.

But some fear that a bar on low-skilled EU migrants may damage business.

The prime minister has repeatedly vowed to end unlimited immigration from Europe after Brexit.

BBC political editor Laura Kuenssberg said: “Ending freedom of movement as it stands has become a rhetorical non-negotiable for Theresa May.”

Labour’s shadow Brexit secretary Sir Keir Starmer said a “fair” system was needed to prevent discrimination.

But speaking on BBC One’s Breakfast, he also urged caution, saying there might need to be a “discussion around the rules of EU nationals… if we want a close economic relationship with the European Union”.

The cabinet agreement came after a presentation from the MAC chairman, Prof Alan Manning, at a lengthy meeting on Monday.

According to one source, the principle was agreed that the UK would not show bias towards immigrants from any one part of the world over another when granting access to work.

However, one cabinet source told the BBC the agreement did not constitute a firm decision and a government source said there could be “light touch migration” rules for EU nationals as part of any wider Brexit trade deal.

The government does not call this “preferential” treatment because a similar arrangement could be struck with, for example, the US as part of a UK-US trade deal.

The EU’s principle of freedom of movement currently allows people from the European Economic Area – all EU countries, as well as Norway, Iceland and Liechtenstein – plus Switzerland, to travel and work within the area without visas, regardless of skills.

The UK is due to withdraw from the European Union on 29 March next year, although an “implementation period” lasting until 31 December 2020 has been agreed as part of the proposed Brexit deal being negotiated between the UK and the EU.

In that transition period, EU citizens arriving in the UK would enjoy the same rights and guarantees as those who arrive beforehand. The same would apply to UK expats on the continent.

It remains unclear what would happen in the event of a “no-deal” Brexit, as the transition period would not then happen and the new migration system would, government sources say, have to be “tapered in” because it would not be ready by March.


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