Ministers are drawing up plans for a two-tier system of UK border controls for EU citizens as Theresa May prepares to tighten migration rules at the expense of single market membership.
Senior government officials expect the prime minister to decide on a system based on work permits and new automated security checks -similar to the US visa-waiver programme -for EU citizens travelling to Britain. The cabinet is divided on how to regulate the flow of EU workers into Britain.
Pro-Brexit politicians want an end to free movement and the introduction of a work permit system, with the government having the power to decide how many EU citizens would be allowed into Britain each year to take up a job offer. They also want restrictions on welfare payments.
Home Office officials are also working on the idea of an electronic visa-waiver scheme for EU citizens visiting Britain — similar to the US Electronic System for Travel Authorisation, or Esta — to allow for pre-travel security screening. “Everyone is going down that route and the aim would be to ensure that it is not onerous on travellers,” said one government official. “You might be able to do it on your phone.” Last year the European Commission announced plans for a similar scheme covering visitors to the Schemed border-free travel area who do not need further visas once inside. Under the EU plan, travellers would apply online, paying €5 per application, to carry out advance checks to screen for anyone posing a security or illegal migration risk. That scheme is expected to apply to Britons after the UK leaves the EU. The work permit idea would be the more contentious part of the UK government’s plan as it would mean an end to the free movement rules that come with membership of the single market.