Downing Street has today (31 July) confirmed what the British electorate and the rest of the EU have known since Sir Tim Barrow, the UK's permanent representative to Brussels, handed Theresa May's Article 50 letter to EU Council chief Donald Tusk in March – that Britain will leave the bloc in March 2019 after two years of negotiations.

So when a Number 10 spokesperson reportedly told a group of journalists that it would be "wrong" to suggest that the free movement of EU nationals will "continue as it is now," they are technically right. But that careful language should not be interpreted as a sign that EU nationals will be stopped from coming to the UK, or that the government will unleash a crackdown.

In fact, Home Secretary Amber Rudd has said that EU nationals will be able to continue to come to the UK during a post-March 2019 transition period so long as they go through a "registration and documentation" process.

That means something very similar to free movement could continue until 2022, when a new system is rolled-out. Rudd has commissioned a group of top economists, the Migration Advisory Committee (MAC), to investigate how the UK's future immigration system "should be aligned with a modern industrial strategy".

The MAC, which is chaired by Professor Alan Manning, has been given a deadline of September 2018 to report back to Rudd.

"This is an important and extensive commission and the MAC welcome the opportunity to contribute to the UK's knowledge base in this area at this critical time," Manning said. "The MAC will research and analyse the areas covered by the questions using all available data sources, using both internal and external analysts and expertise."

Elsewhere, Brexit Secretary David Davis and the EU's chief negotiator Michel Barnier have been debating the future of the more than three million EU nationals in the UK and the more than one million Britons on the continent. The Conservative government wants to split from the European Court of Justice (ECJ), something which Brussels opposes.

There is also great pressure on May and Rudd to reduce immigration levels because of their party's "tens of thousands" general election manifesto commitment.

The latest Office for National Statistics (ONS) figures put net migration at more than 248,000 in 2016, down 84,000 on the 2015 numbers.

The total figure was split +175,00 for non-EU nationals, +113,000 for EU nationals and -60,000 for British citizens, suggesting the UK government should not just concentrate on reducing EU immigration if it wants to meet its target.

"There are more government positions than there are cabinet ministers," said Liberal Democrat leader Vince Cable. "The government is in total disarray. Unless the cabinet can agree a position how can it possibly negotiate Brexit on behalf of Britain with the EU?"