Britain must relax immigration rules for Australians if it wants to strike a free trade deal with the country after Brexit, Australia’s high commissioner to the UK has said.
Alexander Downer, a former Australian Liberal Party politician and now high commissioner in London, said Canberra would seek “greater access” for businesspeople before reaching a post-Brexit trade agreement with the UK.
He also suggested that the UK should establish an “easier” system for Australian workers to obtain visas.
Speaking on BBC Radio 4’s Today programme, Mr Downer said: “We would want to see greater access for Australian businesspeople working in the UK and that’s often been a part of free-trade negotiations – it hasn’t always been by the way, but it’s often been part of our free-trade negotiations.
“It might just make it a bit simpler actually. For example, an Australian company that invests in the UK might want to bring some of its executives to the UK.
“That can be done now with what are called tier two visas, but maybe that could be made a little bit easier.”
The high commissioner added that talks had already taken place at a ministerial level between the two countries to “explore the scope” of a prospective free-trade agreement, but added that nothing could be negotiated until the UK formally leaves the European Union.
“We have had discussions with them at all sorts of different levels, including ministerial level, and we have set up a working group to explore the scope of what a free-trade agreement might look like,” he said.
“We can’t negotiate a free-trade agreement with the UK until the time is right. Obviously once the UK leaves the EU it can negotiate free-trade agreements, but not before then.
“But we can scope it out and we’ve provided a scoping paper to the British Government to explain what we think the scope of a free-trade agreement should look like.”
Australia’s trade minister Steven Ciobo said in October that starting talks before Britain formally cuts ties with the EU would not be legal, but added that it was keen on securing agreements “promptly”.
Mr Downer’s comments came after Theresa May made it clear that Britain would not remain a full member of the EU customs union after Brexit, saying the UK wanted to negotiate its own trade deals with the rest of the world.
During her first major speech on Brexit, the Prime Minister indicated plans for future trade deals with countries outside the EU bloc, saying: “We have started discussions on future trade ties with countries like Australia, New Zealand and India.
“I want to remove as many barriers to trade as possible and I want Britain to be free to establish our own tariff schedules at the World Trade Organisation, meaning we can reach new trade agreements not just with the EU but with old friends and new allies from outside Europe too.”
During the speech, Mr Downer praised Ms May, tweeting that he “welcomed her enthusiasm for a free-trade agreement with Australia”.
Under current immigration rules, the tier two visa allows Australians to stay in Britain for a maximum of five years and 14 days.
People are eligible for this only if they have a skilled job in the UK, a certificate of sponsorship from their employer and a minimum of £945 in savings.
Australians also need to prove they will be earning an appropriate salary, which is usually at least £25,000, although there are exemptions to these rules.
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