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Hammond Blames Blair Government for High Immigration Rate | ASHARQ AL-AWSAT English Archive 2005 -2017
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U.K. Treasury chief Philip Hammond. Reuters

Davos- Less than 24 hours after U.K. Prime Minister Theresa May’s speech at World Economic Forum in Davos, Chancellor of the Exchequer Philip Hammond stressed that Brexit means his country will be open to the world and to London’s traditional allies.

Speaking at a panel discussion hosted by The Wall Street Journal at the World Economic Forum in Davos, Switzerland, U.K. Treasury Chief Philip Hammond said it is a “political necessity” for the British government to complete Brexit negotiations within the two-year time frame set out for withdrawal in EU treaties.

Mario Monti, formerly prime minister of Italy and a senior EU official, agreed that a two-year deadline was achievable and advocated an “orderly” exit process.

Jes Staley, chief executive of Barclays PLC, said he thought London would preserve its status as a financial hub after Brexit.

“It’s not going to be determined by one bank CEO saying ‘we’re going to move a thousand people here, a thousand people there,‘ he said at the panel discussion.

The chancellor said the Brexit vote was not the result of the anti-trade and anti-globalization feeling that manifested itself in the U.S. presidential race.

“But what there was clearly was a strong strand of feeling against uncontrolled migration. And I lay the responsibility for that squarely at the door of Prime Minister Tony Blair who failed to impose transitional regime in the UK in 2004.”

“Blair’s failure to control the flow of workers from Eastern Europe fueled the anti-immigration sentiment that led to the U.K.’s Brexit vote, Hammond said.

Hammond said the U.K. was not anti-migration and that only a minority thought the borders should be completely closed.

“It is very important to the British people that we control our borders, but most of them do not want to use that control to shut the borders, they simply want to have the control,” he said.

The chancellor said departure from the EU and from the single market did not mean there would be no migration. He said Britain would want to attract skilled workers but wanted the ability to control the flow of unskilled, cheap labor.

“What we’ve said clearly is that we cannot accept the principle of free movement,” Hammond said, adding that any EU national could simply change their place of residence from Bulgaria or Romania to the U.K. “We can’t accept that anymore.”

Oxford University Professor Ngaire Woods said it would be a serious mistake if Britain included foreign students in its immigration curbs post-Brexit.

“If we make them part of Britain’s immigration debate we’ve smashing our own kneecaps before even beginning the race.

“Don’t kneecap your best asset. Let us thrive, make sure that immigration policies tell the world that Britain is open and welcoming to the best most entrepreneurial, energetic talent from all over, without restraint and constraint.”

Moreover, the chancellor said the U.K. economy had confounded those predicting immediate dire consequences from the result of the referendum in June, largely due to the resilience of consumer spending. But he warned that growth was set to slow this year as the impact of the weaker pound raised inflation and eroded spending power.

“A floating exchange rate is a smooth and efficient transmission mechanism that deals very effectively with an external shock,” the chancellor said.

“But currency depreciation is now feeding into inflation which will increasingly affect consumer behavior this year, hence the lower forecast for growth in 2017.”