Rishi Sunak resists demands from businesses for looser immigration controls to boost growth

The demands for more immigration for business comes in stark contrast to the demands for less by the public, putting Rishi Sunak in a bind - ITV News Correspondent Harry Horton reports

Rishi Sunak has resisted demands from businesses to be "practical" about economic migration in an effort to boost growth and a sluggish economy as he faced business leaders on Monday.

The prime minister received a tough message from businesses during the Confederation of British Industry (CBI) conference in Birmingham, with Director General Tony Danker urging Mr Sunak's new administration to end arguments over Brexit and to use immigration to solve worker shortages.

But in response to CBI’s calls for a new deal on immigration, Mr Sunak said tackling illegal migration was his first priority.

He said the UK was committed to using its “Brexit freedoms” to drive innovation as he used his speech to categorial deny talk of a move to Swiss-style EU deal saying he would block any move requiring UK to align with EU laws.

The prime minister said an increase in productivity through developments in robotics and automation could reduce some pressure on the labour market.

Speaking in Birmingham, Rishi Sunak said “stability and confidence” was at the heart of the government’s agenda, with the autumn statement providing a “plan to grip inflation and balance the books.”

He said illegal immigration was “not a simple problem to solve” and would not be dealt with overnight, but “I am determined to reduce the number of illegal migrants coming here”.

His comments came after Mr Danker called on politicians to be “practical” about immigration as he set out his plans for to revive economic growth in UK.

“Let’s have economic migration in areas where we aren’t going to get the people and skills at home any time soon. In return, let’s make those visas fixed term,” Mr Danker said in his opening speech.

In his speech, Mr Sunak acknowledged businesses were facing tough times as he set out his plans to re-establish economic stability, tackle inflation and boost innovation.

Tony Danker, Director-General CBI. Credit: PA

Speaking in Birmingham, he said “stability and confidence” was at the heart of the government’s agenda, with the autumn statement providing a “plan to grip inflation and balance the books”.

Mr Sunak said controlling inflation was critical to improving living standards and putting the economy on a stable footing for the future as he put innovation, which is described as a “defining focus of this government”, at the heart of his speech. “The more we innovate, the more we will grow. And we have a plan for both,” he said.

“But there’s so much more we need to do. I’m not just here to solve problems, I want to build a better country where we get inflation down and grow the economy, where we cut NHS waiting times and improve the quality of care, and where we invest more in schools and give every child a world-class education.

"Critical to achieving all of this is innovation," he added.

Immigration minister Robert Jenrick wants to see employers putting British workers first

The prime minister's appearance comes days after Chancellor Jeremy Hunt unveiled £25 billion of tax rises in a budget designed to restore market confidence in the UK after Liz Truss’s own disastrous mini-budget.In response to Mr Danker's calls to relax visa requirements, immigration minister Robert Jenrick said he wanted to see employers supporting British people and helping the five million economically inactive people in this country get back into work rather than focusing on immigration. Over the weekend, Downing Street was forced to categorically deny a report in the Sunday Times over the weekend that the government could pursue a Swiss-style relationship with the EU as it sought to appease Brexiteer MPs.

Mr Sunak is expected to receive a tough message from businesses during the conference in Birmingham Credit: Leon Neal/PA

A government spokesperson said: “This government is focused on using our Brexit freedoms to create opportunities that drive growth and strengthen our economy.”

The CBI boss flagged concerns over the as-yet unresolved row with the EU about the Northern Ireland Protocol as one of the major drags on growth.

“Boris Johnson achieved a deal with the EU that allows us to continue to trade tariff and quota free with our biggest trading partner. There’s some good stuff in there. Currently locked up,” Mr Danker said in his opening speech.

“But, still, we argue over the Northern Ireland Protocol. Still, we argue over sovereignty. Get round the table, do the deal, unlock the Trade and Co-operation Agreement. I say to Brexiteers, the best guarantor of Brexit is an economy that grows.

“Its biggest risk is one that doesn’t.

“Now I know that some of these things will not be popular with politicians. But while I have no problem with government taking tough choices to bring stability, I want them to also take tough choices for growth.”

With the UK forecast to already be in recession, Mr Danker told the conference: “The painful reality about growth is that it can’t be stimulated overnight. That’s what the mini-budget got wrong.

“Across-the-board tax cuts. Immediate demand stimulus. Relying on the old British strength − consumption − at the expense of the perennial British weakness − investment − has given growth a bad name.”

Praising Mr Hunt for “staying the course” on projects designed to generate growth, such as HS2 rail and the new nuclear power plant at Sizewell C, the CBI boss also offered the government various solutions to boost the flagging economy.

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