Britain said Monday it will immediately end freedom of movement for people from the European Union after Brexit on October 31, in a policy shift under Prime Minister Boris Johnson.
“Freedom of movement as it currently stands will end on October 31 when the U.K. leaves the EU,” a Downing Street spokeswoman said.
She added the government planned “tougher criminality rules for people entering the U.K.” as part of the new hardline stance.
“Details of other changes immediately on October 31 for a new immigration system are currently being developed,” the spokeswoman said.
The change comes amid growing fears Britain is set to leave the 28-member bloc without a divorce deal in two and a half months.
Around 3.6 million EU citizens already in Britain have been told to apply for “permanent settled status”, under an interior ministry scheme started by Johnson’s predecessor Theresa May. So far only around one million have signed up for the status.
May’s government said in January that it would end free movement “as soon as possible” after a no-deal Brexit, but keep allowing EU arrivals “for a transitional period only.”
Legislation drawn up to deal with the issue is stuck in parliament in the House of Commons gridlock over Brexit.
Johnson has said he favors a skills-based immigration system post-Brexit, but Downing Street is yet to unveil full details. Critics representing EU citizens claim he is trying to evade parliamentary scrutiny of his changed stance towards new arrivals after Brexit — and fear those already in Britain could get mistakenly caught out.
“Ending freedom of movement abruptly on Oct 31st will lead to mass discrimination against potentially over 2 million EU citizens,” the3million lobby group said on Twitter, calling the move “reckless.”
Meanwhile, British opposition leader Jeremy Corbyn called on Monday for a general election to try to end the Brexit impasse, as Johnson came under pressure to recall parliament.
Corbyn said his Labour Party would offer a second referendum on the 2016 decision to quit the European Union if it wins any election. Conservative leader Johnson does not want to call an election but may be forced to if he loses the confidence of parliament.
“Labour believes the decision on how to solve the Brexit crisis must go back to the people,” Corbyn was quoted as saying by Britain’s Press Association.
“And if there is a general election this autumn, Labour will commit to holding a public vote to give voters the final say with credible options on both sides including the option to remain.”
Johnson has vowed to stick to an October 31 deadline for Britain to leave, even if there is no deal in place to regulate the country’s departure. The EU has shown no signs of giving in to Johnson’s demand to renegotiate a deal agreed with his predecessor Theresa May.
The deal failed to get through the British parliament, which includes many lawmakers who want to try to block a no-deal Brexit, including Corbyn. His finance spokesman John McDonnell said parliament should be reconvened “in the next few days” from summer recess.
According to government documents leaked to the Sunday Times newspaper, Britain will face food, medicine and fuel shortages in the event of a no-deal Brexit.