Cabinet minister Greg Clark warns Theresa May against 'damaging' free movement restrictions after Brexit
Greg Clark has warned Theresa May that restricting the access of workers to move freely around Europe after Brexit could be as damaging as a hard trade border.
The Business Secretary said firms’ fears that a tougher approach to immigration from Europe would affect their operations were being heard “loud and clear” by his department.
He added that not enough time had been spent talking about the movement of people compared to that of goods following Britain’s exit, when it could be just as damaging given that services accounted for 80% of the UK economy.
It comes as ministers continue to try and reach a deal on keeping an open border between the UK and Ireland to prevent a hard customs frontier.
“So far ... the debate has focused mainly on goods,” he told a Liverpool business festival, in comments reported by the Guardian.
“About how our new customs arrangements with the EU need to keep the borders flowing and avoid costly delays and paperwork.
“But in order to provide services, it is people who must not be held up.”
“I completely understand when companies say that they rely on efficient mobility as it currently stands, raising concerns that restricting people’s ability to travel at short notice would be as damaging to our economy as frictions and disruption at our borders.”
He added that ministers needed to recognise the importance of reducing barriers between the UK and continent, with the EU being “by far and away the single biggest consumer of our services exports”.
“This extraordinary performance has been built on the back of established trading relationships with the EU,” he said.
“As we leave the European Union, we must deliberately set out to maintain these rights and introduce as few new barriers to trade in services as possible. This is every bit as important as avoiding barriers in manufactured goods.”
The Liberal Democrats seized on Mr Hands' remarks, saying "even those within Government are aware of the dangers of losing access to the single market and customs union".
The party's Brexit spokesperson Tom Brake added: "Migrants play an immensely important role the world over and contribute hugely, not just economically, but culturally too.
“Clark must recognise that his own party is steering Britain towards a hard Brexit, and that if he truly cares about the fate of our country he must stand up against May's ruinous plans"
The Cabinet heavyweight's comments came amid a warning from aerospace giant Airbus - which employs 14,000 people in the UK - may be forced to relocate elsewhere in Europe or China because of the uncertainty caused by Britain quitting the EU.
Downing Street pushed back at that warning today, with a spokesperson insisting: "We are confident that we are going to get a good deal, one that ensures that trade is as free and frictionless as possible, including for the aerospace sector."