Chancellor Philip Hammond sought tonight to reassure business bosses he will prioritise industry in Brexit negotiations.
Speaking to business chiefs at a dinner organised by the Confederation of British Industry (CBI), Hammond said he would aim for a “transition that prioritises protection of the free-flow of trade across our borders” until a deal is secured.
Hammond, an early supporter of a transition deal, also said the government will aim for an immigration deal that limits migrant numbers but “allows British businesses and public services to continue to recruit the labour they need to deliver both economic growth and our social objectives.”
Since last month’s General Election result business leaders have upped their efforts to influence the shape of the Brexit deal. The government has since created a business Brexit advisory group.
The CBI welcomed Hammond’s remarks. Josh Hardie, CBI deputy director-general, said: “Companies will want to see transitional arrangements that prioritise protection of the free-flow of trade across borders agreed as soon as possible”.
He added: “A new migration system allowing firms to access the skills and labour they need to succeed globally is of the utmost importance as the UK seeks to renew its trading relationships around the world, and the chancellor’s commitment to this will be warmly received.”
Hammond also addressed the growing row over austerity, which has been given new impetus by last month’s General Election, saying he is open to a “grown-up debate” on the level of funding of public services.
He said he recognised “the British people are weary after seven years’ hard slog”.
However, he said he would stick to his deficit reduction plans, despite recent pressure from within his party to direct more money towards public-sector pay and the National Health Service.