Immigration is set to fall dramatically following Brexit after the Cabinet agreed to tough curbs on the number of EU nationals allowed into Britain.
Ministers yesterday backed a system which would end free movement and subject EU migrants to the same rules as those from outside the bloc.
Experts predict the move could lead to an 80 per cent fall in migrants coming to Britain from European countries.
The agreement is a major victory for Theresa May and Home Secretary Sajid Javid, who were pushing for tighter controls.
Mr Javid told the Cabinet that numbers coming to the UK should be reduced to ‘sustainable levels’. He also argued it was upholding the result of the referendum.
The only dissenting voices were Chancellor Philip Hammond and Business Secretary Greg Clark.
One source said Mr Hammond was being ‘typically tin-eared’ about migration. He is understood to accept that free movement is ending, but wants the move to the new regime to be as smooth as possible.
Mr Clark drew a link between migration levels and a likely deal on services.
The new system is based on a plan published by the independent Migration Advisory Committee last week.
In a further boost for the PM, a predicted row over her Chequers plan failed to materialise.
In a presentation, MAC chairman Professor Alan Manning told ministers there should be more highly-skilled migrants and fewer low-skilled.
In a swipe at Mr Hammond, Work and Pensions Secretary Esther McVey said it was ridiculous to suggest Britain would both be plunged into recession and experience a big influx of migrants.
If a deal is agreed with the EU, the new system will come into force after the transition period, which is likely to finish at the end of 2020.
Net migration from the Brussels bloc currently stands at around 86,000 a year – but that figure is down from close to 200,000 before the referendum in 2016.
Overall, the difference between long-term arrivals in the UK and people leaving is running at around 270,000.
The government’s target is to bring the total figure down below 100,000 a year.
After Mrs May’s row with EU leaders in Salzburg last week, reports suggested ministers were planning a rebellion designed to force her to adopt a Canada-style free trade deal.
There was even a suggestion one minister was planning a walk-out. But the issue was barely mentioned.
Mrs May told the meeting ‘Now is the time to hold our nerve’ and said the negotiations were always going to reach a critical point.
Defending the Chequers plan, under which the UK would continue to follow single market rules on goods and foods, she said it was the only one which would prevent a hard border on the island of Ireland.
No other ministers spoke on the issue before it broke up, it is understood.
Yesterday, former Brexit secretary David Davis and European Research Group chairman Jacob Rees-Mogg backed a report calling for a Canada-style deal.
The 145-page document from the Institute for Economic Affairs think-tank said Chequers would make an independent trade policy – making deals with the US, China and other countries – ‘all but impossible’.
The MAC report suggested free movement should end because there is ‘no guarantee that migration is in the interests of UK residents’.
It said higher-skilled workers were better than low-skilled ones because they had higher earnings and were more productive and innovative.
It also advised ministers to maintain a £30,000 minimum salary limit for foreign citizens securing a work permit.
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