Tue. Nov 29th, 2022

British Prime Minister Rishi Sunak flatly rejected calls from business leaders for looser immigration rules to tackle labor shortages and closer ties with the EU to tackle damaging trade barriers after Brexit.

Speaking in Birmingham at the annual conference of major employers’ organization the CBI (Confederation of British Industry), Sunak insisted that “Brexit is already bringing huge benefits and opportunities”.

Earlier, the CBI reiterated its call for greater migration to address chronic shortages in the labor market.

CBI director general Tony Danker said Britain should create a temporary work visa program to boost economic growth.

“We don’t have enough Brits to look for the vacancies that exist, and in any case there is a skills mismatch,” he said ahead of the conference.

“We are going to have economic migration in areas where we are not going to get people and skills at home any time soon. In return, make these visas temporary,” he added.

The business world is also increasingly calling for a closer trade relationship with the EU.

But when the prime minister was asked if he was listening to both calls, he sidestepped the question.

“I think the number one priority in the country right now, when it comes to migration, is tackling illegal migration. Stopping people coming here illegally in small boats across the Channel,” Rishi Sunak said.

Last week, the British and French governments agreed a revised deal to boost efforts to stop the growing number of people arriving on English shores after leaving the French coast in flimsy rubber boats.

‘No compliance with EU laws’

Some business leaders have called for the UK to rejoin the bloc’s single market and customs union, in the face of increased red tape and costs facing many importers and exporters.

The British government rejected a newspaper report on Sunday that it was exploring a Swiss-style trade relationship with the EU. Switzerland has access to the EU’s single market, but in return has to accept certain conditions on budget contributions and migration.

“Let me be unequivocal about this. Under my leadership the UK will not pursue any relationship with Europe that relies on alignment with EU law,” Sunak told the CBI conference.

“I voted for Brexit, I believe in Brexit and I know that Brexit can bring and is already bringing huge benefits and opportunities for the country.”

The Prime Minister said Britain now has proper control over its borders and can have a “proper conversation with the country” about the type of migration it needs.

“We couldn’t do it within the European Union. Now at least we control it,” added Sunak.

Deputies from the Eurosceptic European Research Group (ERG) of the ruling Conservative Party warned Sunak on Sunday not to pursue closer ties with the bloc.

British finance minister Jeremy Hunt is on Friday acknowledged that Brexit has created barriers to trade but ruled out membership of the single market because it “requires the free movement of people”.

On the same day, the government’s official forecaster, the Office for Budget Responsibility (OBR), said in its updated economic outlook that “the latest evidence suggests that Brexit has had a significant negative impact on UK trade, by reducing the overall volume of trade and the number of trading relationships between UK and EU companies”.