Photographer: Chris Ratcliffe/Bloomberg

U.K. May Have to Accept EU Free Movement for Years, Report Says

  • Think tank says developing a new system by 2019 ‘unfeasible’
  • Up to 5,000 civil servants may be needed to process claims

Britain may be forced to keep the free movement of people from the European Union for years after it leaves the bloc because introducing controls will be so be complex, an influential independent think tank said.

The successful implementation of a new immigration system by Britain’s 2019 Brexit deadline is “unfeasible” and the U.K. should keep the current system until a replacement has been finalized, the Institute for Government said in a report published Thursday. The process for registering EU nationals is “not fit for purpose” and as many as 5,000 extra civil servants may be needed to deal with a deluge of residency applications, it said.

“The political imperative for change in immigration is significant, but so is the administrative challenge,” said Jill Rutter, a former senior civil servant and the Brexit program director at the Institute. The task “is huge and it is critical that government gets it right.”

Prime Minister Theresa May pledged to “take back control” of Britain’s borders after opposition to unfettered immigration from the rest of the EU played a major role in the vote to leave the EU in last year’s referendum. The premier has said she is seeking to guarantee the rights of EU citizens in the U.K. as part of a deal that simultaneously protects U.K. nationals in Europe.

An estimated 3 million citizens from other EU countries currently live in the U.K., according to the report. One option is for Britain to grant permanent residency to all EU citizens who arrived in the U.K. before March 2017, but ministers must decide if their aim is to simplify the process or reduce immigration, the report said.

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