The prime minister’s remarks set her on course for a major skirmish with officials in Brussels, who have offered a “status quo” transition period until December 2020, including free movement and citizens’ rights for those who settle in the UK during that period.
Rules for new EU migrants could include mandatory work permits, requirements to register on arrival and restrictions on access to benefits, which would not apply to EU citizens who moved to the UK before Brexit.
Speaking to reporters on a three-day trip to China, May said the details were “a matter for negotiation for the implementation period, but I’m clear there is a difference between those who came prior to us leaving and those who will come when they know the UK is leaving.”
May said she wanted to resist the idea that not much would change after the UK exits the block, putting her at odds with her chancellor Philip Hammond who said the aim was for “very modest changes” post-Brexit.
“What we’re doing now is doing the job that the British people asked the government to do which is to deliver on Brexit,” she said. “In doing that they did not vote for nothing to change when we come out of the EU.”
Brussels intends to firmly rebuff any attempt to water down the “four freedoms”, including the free movement of people, during the transition period, sources said.
The EU believe they had agreed with the UK that citizens coming to the country before the end of the transition period would be covered on rights for EU nationals.