Boris Johnson says freedom of movement can continue after Brexit

Foreign Secretary claims to be 'one of the few British politicians to speak up on the benefits of immigration'

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Boris Johnson has admitted Britain may continue to allow the free movement of people from the EU after Brexit.

The Foreign Secretary said immigration controls were likely to be imposed after the so-called implementation phase, which will extend beyond the two-year negotiations.

Continuing to allow EU migrants to settle in the UK without restrictions would allow the economy to attract talented people, Mr Johnson said.

Asked if Britain would accept full free movement of people after the March 2019 deadline for talks to end membership of the bloc, Mr Johnson said such a deal was possible.

"Ideally I think it could be done, what with goodwill and imagination it could be done," he told reporters in Athens.

"In the last 10 years I have been one of the few British politicians to speak up on the benefits of immigration," he said.

Mr Johnson added that he did not want to discourage talented people from coming to Britain, but said the government wanted control over flows.

"We don't want to close the doors. We simply want to have a system that is balanced," he said.

However, Mr Johnson appeared to stoke fears about immigration during the Brexit campaign.

In the days before the 23 June referendum, the former London mayor claimed remaining in the EU was the “riskier” option because of the supposed pressures on housing and the NHS from European migrants.

Mr Johnson and his Brexit-backing colleague Michael Gove also vowed to create a “genuine Australian-style points based immigration system” by the time of the next general election in 2020.

The Foreign Secretary’s latest comments are more explicit than a suggestion from Theresa May that free movement could continue during a phase after Brexit when Britain and the EU implement their divorce deal.

Ms May hinted last month that freedom of movement could continue in some form after Britain has officially left the EU.

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“We want to make sure that we are ending the jurisdiction of the European court of justice and that we are able to control movement of people coming from the EU,” the PM said during a special BBC programme on Brexit.

“We want to have the agreements done in two years.”

But she added: “There may then be a period in which we are implementing those arrangements.

 “If there are different visa arrangements that need to be put in place, the government here and the government elsewhere will have to have their systems working so that it can operate.

“So there may be a period where we have got to implement the decisions that have been taken.”

Additional reporting Reuters