Britain “doomed” if it slashes immigration – pro-Brexit retail boss
LONDON, July 14 (Reuters) – Britain will suffer grave economic damage if it tries to slash immigration after last month’s vote to leave the European Union, according to a retail boss who was among the leading business supporters of ‘Brexit’.
Simon Wolfson, chief executive of fashion group Next , told the BBC he wanted the government to gain "some control" over levels of immigration but added: "Any move to reduce immigration to the tens of thousands would be very dangerous for the economy."
Immigration dominated the final weeks of the June 23 referendum, with many voters apparently swayed by the ‘Leave’ campaign’s argument that Brexit would enable the government to cut immigration and spend more on public services.
Official data published shortly before the vote showed that net migration to Britain reached its second highest level on record last year, hitting 333,000. Former prime minister David Cameron had promised to reduce the level to the tens of thousands.
Since the vote, several figures from the Leave campaign have said immigration was not their main motivation. The government will now need to embark on the process of extricating Britain from the EU while avoiding damage to its economy.
"I believe we should gain some control but we can either try and trade our way out of this mess or we can try and protect ourselves by erecting barriers to trade and movement of people," Wolfson, a member of Britain’s upper house of parliament and a prominent supporter of the ruling Conservative Party, told the BBC.
"If we try and protect our way out of this, we are doomed."
Asked if voters would not feel betrayed if immigration does not fall over time, he replied: "I voted Leave and I certainly won’t feel betrayed if immigration is not brought down to tens of thousands. I think it would be very dangerous to bring immigration down to those levels – you only have to go into any hospital in the United Kingdom to see how important immigrants are."
The National Health Service relies heavily on foreign staff.
Wolfson added: "People want control of their borders but they don’t necessarily want all immigration to stop."