May: Curbs on freedom of movement will take time to implement after Brexit
Curbs on freedom of movement will not come into force straight after Britain has quit the European Union, Theresa May has said.
The Prime Minister said there would be an "implementation" phase once a deal had been struck, with b usiness and governments needing a "period of time" to adjust to the new rules.
"In terms of the deal that we negotiate and the arrangements that will come there, what we have talked about, you've used the phrase transitional phase; I have used the phrase implementation period," Mrs May said during a visit to Saudi Arabia.
"If you think about it, once we've got the deal, once we've agreed what the new relationship will be for the future, it will be necessary for there to be a period of time when businesses and governments are adjusting systems and so forth, depending on the nature of the deal - b ut a period of time when that deal will be implemented.
"What is crucial for the British public, what was part of the vote that they took last year, was that they want to ensure that we have control of our borders and control of our immigration and that's exactly what we will do when we come out of the European Union."
Mrs May had earlier been accused of backing away from a key Brexit promise after she appeared to concede that a trade deal with the EU cannot be signed until after the UK leaves.
Opponents of a hard Brexit called on the Prime Minister to ensure that a transitional agreement was in place to avoid the risk of disruption to business if the UK makes a "cliff edge" departure from the EU without a trade deal.
Speaking in Jordan before travelling to Riyadh, Mrs May said she expected the shape of a new trade relationship to be clear to everybody by Brexit Day in March 2019, but appeared to accept that the formal conclusion of the agreement will have to wait until after withdrawal.
European Council president Donald Tusk left no doubt in his draft guidelines for negotiations, released on Friday, that EU rules state that trade deals can only be done with non-members, so that the most the UK can hope for prior to Brexit is an "overall understanding on the framework for the future relationship".
Mrs May insisted it will be possible to reach clarity on the deal within two years.
But asked if the deal could be finalised in that timescale, she told Sky News: "There's obviously a legal situation in terms of how the EU can conduct trade negotiations.
"I'm clear that by the point at which we leave the EU, it's right that everybody should know what the future arrangements, the future relationship, that future partnership between us and the European Union will be.
"That's the sensible thing, it's the pragmatic way to look at this, and I believe that's what we will do."
Labour said that Mrs May's comments amounted to a "significant retreat" from the Government's previous position that a trade deal could be done within the two-year deadline for withdrawal negotiations set down in Article 50 of the EU treaties.
The party's Brexit spokesman Paul Blomfield said: "It is less than a week since the Prime Minister triggered Article 50, and it seems every day brings another broken promise from the Government.
"First they said immigration may go up after Brexit. Now they are backpedalling on trade deals.
"We will hold the Government to account on the pledges made to the British people during the referendum campaign and since. They promised a comprehensive free trade agreement, with the EU giving the 'exact same benefits' we have now. They said it would be ready for the day we leave, along with new trade deals with other countries.
"Now, as they face reality, they are trying to downplay expectations. They need to spell out the transitional deal that will be in place, to stop the economy falling off a cliff edge without new agreements in two years' time."
Labour MP Owen Smith, a leading supporter of the Open Britain campaign, said: "Bit by bit, the main planks of the Prime Minister's Brexit strategy are falling away."