Britain could allow free movement of people from the European Union during an implementation phase after Brexit to allow the economy to attract talented people, Foreign Secretary Boris Johnson said on Thursday.
When asked by Reuters TV if Britain would accept full free movement of people during an implementation phase, Johnson said this was possible, and could be agreed before Britain left the EU in two years' time.
"Ideally I think it could be done, what with goodwill and imagination it could be done as fast as – I think it can be done in two years," Johnson told reporters in Athens. "In the last 10 years I have been one of the few British politicians to speak up on the benefits of immigration," he said.
Johnson added that he did not want to discourage talented people from coming to Britain, but said the government wanted control over flows.
"We don't want to close the doors. We simply want to have a system that is balanced," he said.
The comments from Johnson are more explicit than a suggestion from Prime Minister Theresa May that free movement be continued during a phase after Brexit when Britain and the EU implement their divorce accord.
Concern over immigration from the European Union was a major reason behind Britain's vote to leave, and May has said she will respect those fears by not seeking membership of Europe's single market which would mean allowing freedom of movement of people.
(Reporting by Renee Maltezou, writing by Michele Kambas and Guy Faulconbridge, editing by David Milliken)