David Davis has said immigration could go up as well as down after Brexit as many industries are “dependent on migrants”.
Speaking on a special live edition of BBC Question Time, the Brexit secretary said levels of migration would depend on the “national interest” and confirmed there would be no cap on EU immigration.
Theresa May has stuck with David Cameron’s pledge to reduce immigration to below 100,000.
It is a target the government is nowhere near meeting. In February, the latest net migration figures showed 273,000 people had moved to the UK in the year to September.
Davis said Brexit was about taking control of immigration, not necessarily reducing it.
“I don’t think most people oppose migration. I think most people are in favour of migration so long as it is managed,” he said.
“It is for the home secretary to decide what the policy will be. But I cannot imagine that the policy will be anything other than that which is in the national interest, which means that from time to time we’ll need more, from time to time we’ll need less migrants.
“That is how it will no doubt work. And that will be in everybody’s interests, the migrants and the citizens of the United Kingdom.”
Davis said the the government would be able to meet its immigration target, but added: “The simple truth is that we have to manage this problem. You’ve got industry dependent on migrants. You’ve got social welfare, the national health service. You have to make sure they continue to work.”
Ukip’s Suzanne Evans, said the “vasty majority” of people, whether they voted ‘Leave’ or ‘Remain’, thought immigration was too high.
But she also did not say reducing immigration was always necessarily the right approach as “long as public services can cope”.
“I think we need to have a level of immigration that is sustainable, so we can plan for population growth accordingly,” she said.
May is due to trigger Article 50, the formal process of leaving the EU, on Wednesday.