The UK will stay open for skilled European immigrants after it leaves the European Union, Phillip Hammond, the Chancellor of the Exchequer, said.
In an interview with the Telegraph, Hammond sought to quash concerns from businesses that they would lose access to a pool of European employees once the UK formally leaves the EU.
“The message that I want to send to business is that whatever solution we end up, whatever control powers we have over immigration into the UK, we will use them responsibly,” Hammond said.
“We will use them in a way that supports the UK economy and we will certainly not use them to shut out highly-skilled people — whether they are bankers or software engineers or managers in global companies — out from the UK when their presence is supporting inward investment and growth in our economy,” Hammond said in the interview.
His view contrasts with that of lawmakers that prefer a so-called hard Brexit, in which the UK loses membership of the European single market in return for rejecting the principle of free-movement — which allows EU citizens to live and work in the UK.
Earlier this week, Trade Minister Liam Fox said that links with Europe weren’t necessary and that the UK could trade with other, more distant, countries just as efficiently.
Technological advances are “dissolving away the barriers of time and distance,” he said, and we are entering a “post-geography trading world” where “we are much less restricted in having to find partners who are physically close to us,” he said.
Fox is wrong, according to Angus Armstrong, director of macroeconomics at the National Institute of Economic and Social Research, who explained that distance is one half of the so-called “gravity equations” that underpin trade theory.
“The people who we trade most with tend to be the closest countries, and the biggest countries,” he said at a briefing on the economics of Brexit.
Hammond said that, while voters wanted to leave the EU, they didn’t want to do so at the cost of an economic collapse.
“[Voters] will expect us to negotiate a solution which delivers the key elements of leaving the European Union – regaining our sovereignty, getting control over our borders — but they will expect us to do all of that in a way that allows the UK economy to go on growing,” Hammond said.
“We’re the world’s fifth-largest economy and creating a relationship between the European Union and the world’s fifth-largest economy is going to be a complex process for which there is no model,” he said. “So it will be a bespoke model. We should be looking for a good Brexit — not a hard Brexit or a soft Brexit.”