Liam Fox has suggested that the government’s target of reducing immigration to the tens of thousands should be abandoned post-Brexit.
The international trade secretary said the stringent target was in place “at the moment” but the government would be “reviewing” immigration policy after Britain leaves the EU at the end of March.
During a speech in central London on Tuesday, Fox also accused journalists of being too focused on Brexit.
And he sidestepped questions about whether he thought Parliament would back the deal Theresa May eventually negotiates with Brussels.
“It’s really important that we don’t have such a narrow bandwidth that we only think about Brexit,” he said.
“It’s really interesting when I go to China, when I go to other parts of the world they talk about the global economy, they talk about tariffs, talk about the United States and China, they talk about the WTO (World Trade Organisation).
“And in the UK we talk about Brexit and Brexit and Brexit. It is an important issue, but it isn’t the only issue that is out there in terms of global trade.”
Fox is not the first senior Tory to suggest the migration target, supported by Theresa May, should be axed. Home Secretary Sajid Javid has said it could be reviewed.
Asked about the target on LBC, Fox said: “Well, that is the government’s target at the moment. We will be reviewing what we do post-Brexit.”
Pressed on whether he supported the target, he said: “Naturally as a member of the cabinet I support the government’s policy but I think that we do need to look in the future at how we match our employment opportunities with our migration policy.
“I think the big problem with free movement from Europe was that people were able to come to the United Kingdom without having a job and they were able to use our public services like schools and hospitals and housing without ever having contributed and I don’t think the British public thought that was fair and neither do I.”
Fox has previously hit out over the inclusion of EU students in the net migration figures.
Net migration rose to 282,000 in 2017, up from 249,000 in 2016 while net migration from the EU fell to 101,000 in 2017, down from 133,000 in 2016 to its lowest level since 2012.
Brexit Secretary Dominic Raab is meeting with EU chief negotiator Michel Barnier this week and Theresa May will ask Brussels to back the deal proposal she agreed with ministers at Chequers this summer.