DAVOS, SWITZERLAND — Chancellor of the Exchequer Philip Hammond told attendees at the World Economic Forum on Friday that he expects all EU nationals living in Britain to be able to stay permanently after Brexit, and that UK nationals living in the EU will also get rights to stay in their new homes.
The chancellor struck a conciliatory tone as he spoke on an early morning panel ahead of his keynote speech at lunchtime.
Hammond said that the British government had attempted to get an early agreement from the EU to secure the rights of EU and UK nationals living in each others’ countries, but that the EU had made it clear that “nothing can be agreed until everything is agreed.”
“We have been very clear with the 3.2 million EU nationals in the UK that as far as we are concerned they are welcome, … provided we can be assured of a reciprocal right for the 1.2 million UK nationals living in the EU, then we would expect that to be settled,” he said.
He also said that post-Brexit immigration restrictions would mainly apply to the poor and working classes. High-skilled talent will still be welcome: “There is no immigration system that we will introduce … that I can conceive of which will be intended or designed to cut off the flow of highly skilled, highly paid people, academics, or indeed qualified students … that would be exactly, as you’ve suggested, shooting our kneecaps off before we have even started.”
“It’s about the other end of the economic spectrum. … The effect of large-scale unskilled migration in holding down real wages for our own low-skilled indigenous population,” he said.
“There may be a few people in the UK dreaming of a closed society but that is not the majority view. … they simply want to have the control … we will continue to need to attract the brightest and the best particularly from the EU but also around the world. … We need them and we will go on welcoming them.”
He also said that the UK would continue to welcome foreign students, except those going to scam immigration loophole colleges. “What we have had to do is clamp on people coming, graduating from frankly low-quality institutions, and frankly doing non-graduate level jobs.”
Although Prime Minister Theresa May has said Britain is likely looking at a “hard Brexit” — no membership of the single market or the customs union — Hammond’s tone was fairly pro-European and pro-compromise. Britain would be seeking as much access to the single market as possible under an independent free trade agreement, he said.
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