No sudden drop in immigration post-Brexit - Home Secretary
Immigration will not suddenly fall once Britain leaves the European Union, Home Secretary Amber Rudd has suggested.
Ms Rudd said the Government was "against cliff edges" as she revealed businesses and others will be consulted on plans for a new immigration system in summer.
She confirmed that ministers are considering plans to limit benefits for new immigrants but insisted it was one of a range of options and that no decisions have been made.
Ms Rudd said she was committed to working with businesses to ensure any new immigration system continues to enable them to thrive.
She appeared to back Brexit Secretary David Davis's suggestion that it will take "years and years" to fill jobs in sectors such as hospitality and social care which rely heavily on migrants, and so the door would not "suddenly shut" after Brexit.
Asked about the comments, Ms Rudd told ITV's Peston on Sunday: "We're against cliff edges, so as part of the consultation that we will be bringing out in the summer we will be asking them (firms) the best way to deliver that."
Earlier this week, government sources insisted Mr Davis had not spoken out of turn when he used a visit to Estonia to say: "In the hospitality sector, hotels and restaurants, in the social care sector, working in agriculture, it will take time - it will be years and years before we get British citizens to do those jobs.
"Don't expect just because we're changing who makes the decision on the policy, the door will suddenly shut: it won't."
Sources said this would be in line with expected transitional arrangements after withdrawal.
But Conservative Party chairman Sir Patrick McLoughlin appeared to try to downplay Mr Davis's suggestion, saying his comments were taken out of context.
Sir Patrick told BBC One's The Andrew Marr Show: "We have the figures towards the end of last week which have shown a reduction as far as net immigration to the country as far as the previous figures were concerned, so I think we need to see how that was done.
"And not take one small part of an interview completely out of context, because David is very committed to the Prime Minister's agenda, and that is actually ensuring that we hit control over our own borders, which was one of the biggest issues in the referendum."
Ms Rudd's comments come after reports that ministers are also discussing plans to give the independent Migration Advisory Committee (MAC) an advisory role on how many visas should be issued to take the political sting out of the issue.
Under the proposals, new arrivals could be given five-year working visas if they have a job but be banned from claiming any benefits during that time, according to the Sunday Times.
The MAC would decide how many visas need to be issued for workers in key industries such as software engineering, health and social care, farming and hospitality, which are heavily reliant on immigrants.
According to the newspaper, Mrs May will also attempt to guarantee the rights of all EU nationals who are resident in the UK on the day she triggers Article 50 to begin exit negotiations, if she can get a similar agreement for British expats in Europe.
This is because Home Office lawyers have warned the Government would face a legal challenge if it made the cut-off date the day of last year's EU referendum, June 23, the report said.