A senior government minister has been forced into an embarrassing u-turn after claiming employers would have to check EU workers have a right to be in the country in the event of a no-deal Brexit.
Caroline Nokes, the immigration minister, told MPs that European staff would not have an automatic right to work and firms would have to do "rigorous checks" on European staff to establish whether they were already living in the UK or they had arrived after Britain leaves the EU in March.
Amid widespread confusion, the Home Office issued a directly contradictory statement to EU citizens group the3million, which said employers would "not be expected to differentiate between resident EU citizens and those arriving after exit".
And her boss, Home Secretary Sajid Javid, said EU citizens would be able to continue to live and work during the transition period, even if there is no deal with Brussels.
Nicolas Hatton, a French national who co-founded the3million, sounded the alarm at the prospect of "widespread discrimination" against EU nationals and said the clarification simply showed that the government had no credible plan for leaving the bloc.
The Home Office statement said: "We will protect EU citizens’ rights when we leave the EU, in either a deal or no deal scenario, as the prime Mminister has made clear. We are considering a number of options for the unlikely event that we reach March 2019 without a deal, and will set out more information shortly.
"Employers already need to carry out right to work checks on EU citizens, as they do with all prospective employees. That will not change next March in the event we leave the EU without a deal.
"EU citizens will continue to be able to evidence their right to work by showing a passport or national identity card. Employers will not be expected to differentiate between resident EU citizens and those arriving after exit."
The government will publish a white paper later this year on the future of immigration after Brexit, when freedom of movement will end, it said.
Mr Hatton told The Independent: "Caroline Nokes' 'Right to Work' comment on Tuesday had scores of EU citizens reaching out for the alarm button, raising the prospect of widespread discrimination against three million EU citizens in 148 day, in case of no-deal Brexit.
"Last night, the Home Office tried to diffuse the tension but it's apparent the government has no credible plans for EU citizens in the UK, if the country leaves without an agreement with the EU."
Ms Nokes sparked confusion when she told the Commons Home Affairs committee on Tuesday that employers would have to bring in a string of new checks on EU citizens next year, despite government claims that EU nationals will still be able to work in the UK until the end of the planned 21-month transition period.
"If somebody has been through the settled status scheme they would be able to evidence that," she said.
"If somebody hasn't been here prior to the end of March next year, employers will have to make sure they go through adequately rigorous checks to evidence somebody's right to work."
However Mr Javid directly contradicted her remarks on Wednesday, telling ITV's Peston: "If there was a no-deal, we won't be able to immediately distinguish between those Europeans that were already here before March 29, and those who came after — and therefore as a result I wouldn't expect employers to do anything different than they do today.
He added: "Of course there will need to be some kind of sensible transition period. I mean, these are the kinds of things I've been working on for months and months."
Ms Nokes previously faced criticism when she admitted to never reading the Good Friday Agreement in full or visited the Irish border during a grilling by MPs.
Appearing before the Northern Ireland Affairs Committee, she confessed that she had not read any Irish history "in a very long time" and she was "probably giving birth" when the historic agreement was signed 20 years ago.
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