Boris Johnson, U.K. foreign secretary, smiles during a press conference. (Photographer: Pablo E. Piovano/Bloomberg)

Boris Johnson Calls for `Welcoming Approach' to Immigration

(Bloomberg) -- Foreign Secretary Boris Johnson called for an open approach to immigrants after Brexit to make sure Britain’s economic needs are met, reopening a political debate over migration policy.

Prime Minister Theresa May has backed a target to cut the overall number of migrants coming into the country to the “tens of thousands,” but Johnson signaled he wants a more liberal approach.

Asked if he thought May’s target should be reviewed, Johnson said the priority should be providing the workers -- including in financial services -- that the economy requires.

“I believe we should have a welcoming approach in the U.K. for people of talent who want to come and enrich our society,” Johnson told journalists on a trip to Santiago, Chile on Wednesday. “Certainly we want to remain open to talented people from Chile such as the Chilean community we have in London in the financial services industry.”

Brexit, Immigration, U.K. Labor Market: Bloomberg Intelligence

Johnson’s comments risk further inflaming relations with the prime minister, which are already strained over differences of opinion on Brexit policy. May built her reputation as a tough-on-immigration home secretary, but a recent public outcry over a crackdown on migrants from the Caribbean who’ve been resident for decades damaged her party’s reputation on the issue.

Johnson’s comments are the latest call for a softer policy and can be read as a criticism of May’s tough rhetoric on cutting overall numbers. The Conservative Party’s leader in Scotland, Ruth Davidson, earlier this week called for a review of the migrant reduction target.

Taking back “control” over borders and immigration was a key slogan of the pro-Brexit campaign that Johnson led during the 2016 EU referendum.

Immigration should be a matter for governments “to control,” Johnson said Wednesday, but he added that the policy should be one “that suits the needs of the U.K. economy.”

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