Philip Hammond tries to settle pro-EU Tory nerves by giving Brexit speech that doesn't mention immigration

The speech instead focused on how businesses will be able to attract the skills they need to grow

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Indy Politics

Chancellor Philip Hammond has tried to reassure Tories concerned about Theresa May’s hard line on Europe, by giving a Brexit speech which completely avoided the word “immigration”.

Speaking at Tory conference, Mr Hammond did not use the word once and instead chose to talk about how attracting the best minds to the UK would help the economy survive. 

It comes in stark contrast to the Prime Minister’s speech on Sunday, which pleased Brexiteers with its focus on making border control a red-line in any Brexit deal. 

The Chancellor’s more emollient tone suggests he and Ms May could have chosen to a adopt a ‘good cop, bad cop’ approach to managing the political fallout from Brexit. 

After the Prime Minister’s speech attacking pro-EU politicians and confirming she would trigger Article 50 of the Lisbon Treaty, launching Brexit talks, sterling plunged to its lowest level against the dollar since early July.

She devoted large segments to talking about immigration, but Mr Hammond instead talked about “border control” and even then only mentioned it in one section before the closing passage.

He then added that controls had to be done “while protecting our economy, our jobs and our living standards.”

In a section which struck a significantly different tone to Ms May, he then said: “We will do it by making the British economy the most outward-looking, most dynamic, most competitive, high wage, high skilled, low tax economy in the world.

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“We will do it by making sure that after Brexit, we go on attracting the brightest and the best, the highest skilled and the most dynamic entrepreneurs, scientists, engineers and managers from around the world.

“Building a strong and vibrant economy as the bedrock of our strong and vibrant society.”

Mr Hammond sympathised with businesses which trade with the EU who are uncertain about what “lies ahead”.

He said: “They have understandable questions about the process of the negotiations.

“About the deal that will be done. About the changes they will have to make to adapt to the post-Brexit world. And about what it will all mean for their employees, their company, their business model. I understand their concerns: business hates uncertainty.”

He said he hoped to guarantee the rights of EU citizens already living and working in the UK. Explaining the speech afterwards, a spokeswoman said of the EU referendum: "It was a vote to take back sovereignty, it was not a vote to sink the economy."  

Ms May watched the speech, applauding from the audience, having unveiled her own far tougher stance on EU withdrawal just 24 hours before.

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Pro-EU MPs have been urging Ms May to do everything possible to preserve access to the single market to the greatest degree, with many arguing for full access.

But in her speech Ms May claimed the MPs are looking at things the “wrong way”. She said she wanted a Brexit deal to include cooperation on crime and counter-terrorism, to involve free trade and to give British companies the maximum freedom to operate in the single market. 

Then she went on: “But let me be clear.  We are not leaving the European Union only to give up control of immigration again. And we are not leaving only to return to the jurisdiction of the European Court of Justice.”

With the party threatening to go to war over Brexit and some pro-EU Tories already seeing Mr Hammond as a potential ally, one MP said the approach could be how Ms May hopes to hold the Tories together.   They said: “It’s the old good cop, bad cop. They’re hoping it’ll keep everyone just happy enough to get through.”

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