Will EU citizens need visas to come to UK after Brexit?

Theresa May hints that preferential immigration treatment will be withdrawn once Britain quits bloc

UK border controls at Gatwick airport
UK border controls at Gatwick Airport
(Image credit: Dan Kitwood/Getty Images)

Home Secretary Sajid Javid has told Cabinet ministers that future EU migrants to the UK will have to negotiate a system of caps and visas like that currently faced by arrivals from other parts of the world.

The Home Office informed cabinet ministers last week of its intention to copy the existing migration system used to determine non-EU migration and apply it to Europeans who arrive in Britain after December 2020, according to reports.

News of the move - which is “likely to cause tit-for-tat retaliation by Europe”, says The Times - came as Theresa May hinted that she too backs a global system rather than one giving preferential treatment to EU citizens.

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In a Panorama interview screened on BBC One last night, the prime minister said: “The message from the British people is very simple, it was they don’t want a situation where they could see people coming from the European Union having that, those automatic rights in terms of coming here to the United Kingdom, and a set of rules from people from outside the European Union.

“What we will be doing is putting forward a set of rules that [apply to] people from the European Union and people from outside the European Union.”

Under current rules, the numbers of skilled and unskilled workers who can come from outside the EU is capped, while anyone can come from within the EU. A global system would see the same caps applied to all non-UK citizens seeking to live in Britain.

Any restrictions are likely to be matched by Europe, “leading to serious restrictions on Britons wanting to live and work in the EU in future”, says The Times. “This could be ugly for Britons wanting to work abroad,” a Whitehall source told the newspaper.

However, tough new rules on immigration “could help the PM win over party activists who are deeply unhappy with the PM’s Chequers plan for Brexit”, says the Daily Mail.

But the caveat remains that “future trade deals - including whatever is agreed with the EU over the next few years - are bound to have a sizeable migration and visa element”, says Politico’s Jack Blanchard. In other words, “the big immigration compromise with Brussels will likely be agreed at a later date,” he concludes.

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