The immigration minister has acknowledged EU freedom of movement rules will effectively continue in the event of a “no-deal” Brexit.
Caroline Nokes made the admission as she repeatedly failed to state when a new immigration scheme would come into force.
She was compelled to address the House of Commons on the issue following recent contradictory messages from the Home Office.
The confusion saw the department branded a “shambles” in its preparations for the UK’s exit from the EU.
It came as other Whitehall planning for a potential no-deal Brexit saw lorry companies told there would be an “element of random selection” over whether they will be able to carry on transporting goods throughout Europe.
Answering an urgent question on the impact of a no-deal Brexit on EU citizens in the UK, Ms Nokes said employers would not have to check whether new recruits from the EU had arrived before or after Britain’s departure from the bloc.
She said: “Employers will continue to need to check passports or ID cards as they do now for EU citizens and indeed for British citizens when making a new job offer.
“We will not be asking employers to differentiate even if there is no deal.”
Challenged on whether this was an admission EU free movement will effectively continue in the event of a no-deal Brexit, Ms Nokes said: “We are seeking a sensible transition period that will enable the Home Office to make sure these cases can be caseworked clearly.”
She reiterated Theresa May’s promise that “free movement will end” but – following numerous questions from MPs as to when new limits on EU migration would be introduced – Ms Nokes would only say new immigration laws will be “coming forward very shortly”.
Ms Nokes’ answers failed to satisfy opposition MPs, with Labour’s Matt Rodda telling the Commons: “The minister’s answers today have revealed a shambles at the Home Office.”
Fellow Labour MP Yvette Cooper, the chair of the Commons’ home affairs committee who asked the urgent question, also expressed anger.
She tweeted: “Continued confusion from the Home Office on arrangements for EU citizens after March if there is No Deal & no clear answers from Immigration Minister.
“This isn’t fair on EU citizens, employers or anyone.”
Tory Brexiteers also signalled discomfort at the prospect of EU free movement effectively continuing beyond the UK’s exit from the bloc.
Jacob Rees-Mogg, who leads the European Research Group of Conservative eurosceptics, said: “It is very important the government is generous and treats properly everyone that has come here lawfully up until the day that we leave.
“But it’s extremely important, once we have left, we take back control of our borders.”
Ms Nokes had also told MPs the government is looking “very closely” at whether those EU citizens brought to the UK through sex trafficking or slavery would have to pay fees to remain in the UK after Brexit.
She highlighted how the government had already waived fees for children in care.
Also on Monday, the Department for Transport published guidance for UK road hauliers on the impact of no deal.
The document detailed the process by which a “limited number” of permits allowing continued travel between EU states would be allocated, if the UK left the bloc without a divorce agreement.
As well as being judged on vehicle emissions, the number of international journeys made and the type of goods being carried, lorry firms were informed a “weighted random element” would also be included in the allocation of permits.
However, the department stressed this would not mean “permits will be allocated by chance” and without considering other criteria.