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Former Cabinet minister Lord Hague today warned Theresa May against “shooting your foot off” by ditching a liberal immigration system.
The ex-Foreign Secretary also stressed the Brexit negotiations were the “most complex task” of any government since the Second World War.
The peer issued the warnings as it emerged that EU tourists are likely to be able to visit the UK after Brexit without a visa.
But they would need to apply for permission to study, work or settle in the UK under proposals being drawn up in Whitehall.
Business chiefs fear the Government could hit their industries with a hardline crackdown on immigrant workers as part of the Brexit deal.
Former Tory leader Lord Hague backed Britain leaving the single market and believes that an agreement can be reached with the EU for the UK which would mean “taking powers back, the sovereign powers back to the UK”.
However, he stressed that these new powers needed to be used in a “constructive way”.
“Which means continuing to have quite a liberal approach on migration, which is essential to our economy in the short-term anyway, so we take back control but we use that to enter a strong free trade agreement,” the senior Conservative told BBC Radio 4’s Reflections with Peter Hennessy.
“You can take back control of a gun but it doesn’t mean you use it to shoot your foot off.”
But he believes the Brexit talks are likely to be fraught with difficulties.
“The Government faces the most complex task of any government since the Second World War. It is a very difficult one,” he explained.
Reflecting on his time in Government, Lord Hague told how he had “most regrets” about the failure to resolve Syria’s civil war which has left hundreds of thousands of people dead and millions forced to flee their homes.
“I’m not sure there’s much more I could have done over that, but it is the great frustration,” he said.
“We came quite close in 2012 to agreeing with the Russians a settlement of the Syrian war and that’s, I think, the biggest scar.”
If the Government does allow citizens from other EU countries to continue to visit the UK without a visa after its departure from the union, it will inevitably raise questions over how some of them will be stopped from staying on in the country and working here illegally.
Details of the proposal emerged after the Brexit Department outlined a blueprint for there to be no hard border between Northern Ireland and the Republic of Ireland after Brexit and future customs union arrangements during a transitional period and beyond.
EU leaders have swiftly accused the Government of being unrealistic about its proposals.
However, the Government said today that it is confident of making “sufficient progress” in the “divorce” Brexit talks by October to move on to the next phase and discuss future ties with the bloc.
EU chiefs have accused Britain of being unprepared in the negotiations so far.
But a spokeswoman for the Department for Exiting the European Union said: “Government officials are working at pace and we are confident we will have made sufficient progress by October to advance the talks to the next phase,”
“As the Secretary of State (Brexit minister David Davis) has said, it is important that both sides demonstrate a dynamic and flexible approach to each round of the negotiations.”
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