Sajid Javid has cast doubt on whether plans for Britain’s future immigration system will be unveiled before MPs vote on the Brexit deal.
The Home Secretary told the Commons Home Affairs Committee a long-awaited white paper on the proposals is “almost there” and will be published “very shortly”.
But he was only able to say he “hoped” it would be before the vote on December 11.
Pressed on whether the document will be published before the vote, he said: “I’m afraid I can’t be more specific.
“The vote is on the 11th. I hope it will come before that. But I’m not in a position to be too specific on the date right now.”
He continued: “Whether we have a successful deal with the European Union, or whether we leave with no deal, we are still going to have a new immigration system and the white paper will talk to that new immigration system.
“Whatever happens, whether the meaningful vote passes, whether the meaningful vote does not pass, the paper will still inform us and is still very valuable.”
The Home Secretary declined to comment on reports that the proposals are at the centre of a Cabinet dispute.
He added: “We are almost there. We have a very good draft. A number of ministries are looking at it. I know, certainly, that it will be published in December.”
Mr Javid acknowledged he would have preferred to have seen the paper released earlier.
“I think when I first came into the department I was hoping that things were more ready than they actually were,” he added.
Details of the proposed regime were initially due to be published as long as a year ago, but they were held back while the independent Migration Advisory Committee carried out a detailed analysis, which was published in September.
Mr Javid told the committee it was a “unique opportunity” to create a new approach which takes account of technology and information in other departments.
He said: “It will be a skills-based system. Rather than looking at nationality, it will be focused on the skills that individual has to offer.
“It will be focused on high skill, rather than low skill. For those high-skilled people there will be a salary threshold.”
The Home Secretary noted there is a threshold of £30,000 under the existing Tier 2 non-EU migration route, although he emphasised this was not necessarily the Government’s intended approach.
Reports at the weekend suggested the Home Office has drawn up plans to issue low-skilled migrants with 11-month visas with “restricted entitlements and rights” while they are living in the UK.
Mr Javid was asked if he accepted this approach would be seen as a way of “getting round” the issue of the Government’s target of bringing net migration below 100,000.
Net long-term migration figures are based on estimates of the numbers of people coming to and leaving the country for at least 12 months.
Mr Javid said: “I think it’s right to look at time limits on visas. Whatever those time limits are, they will be based on the needs of the country and nothing else.”