May 'will work tirelessly to control immigration and keep the UK safe'
Theresa May will work "tirelessly" to control immigration to keep Britain safe and unite the Conservative Party if she becomes the next prime minister, the UK foreign secretary has said.
Philip Hammond has announced he is backing Ms May as the candidate who will "take our country forwards" and address the "deep divisions" exposed by the EU referendum.
Mr Hammond is the eighth Cabinet minister to back the home secretary, who now has the support of 88 Conservative MPs and is the clear favourite for the contest.
She yesterday insisted that she did not want a "coronation" but believed there must be a "proper contest" with a vote by the party's membership. Some supporters had suggested it would be good for the country and the party to select one strong candidate to win the leadership unopposed.
Mr Hammond says: "Having worked with Theresa in government for six years, I have seen her determination in standing up to vested interests, her commitment to controlling migration from outside the EU and her tireless work to keep this country safe.
"I know she has the qualities and the character to take our country forward and to re-unite us after the referendum, behind a plan to address the deep divisions in our society that it has exposed."
The foreign secretary admits that there must "trade off" between controls on free movement of EU migrants and access to the single market.
He suggests that while it will be "challenging" for Britain's economy, it does not have to be a "disaster".
"There is a range of outcomes between "no access" and "full unfettered access" to the market; and a range of restrictions on free movement. So rather than squandering time and negotiating capital, let's recognise the trade-off upfront and scope options within the boundaries."
As the minister in charge of immigration, Ms May also appeared to step back from Mr Cameron's promise to cut net migration to the tens of thousands, instead warning there is "still a job to be done".
Speaking to ITV's Robert Peston, she said: "The Brexit vote gave us a clear message from people that we couldn't allow free movement to continue as it had hitherto.
"We need to bring control into movement of people coming into the UK from the EU... I believe we should have that goal of bringing immigration down to sustainable levels."
Ms May added: "What I've also discovered over the last six years is that this is somewhere where you're constantly having to work at it, so you can't just set a time period.
"We know, for example, if we're looking ahead over the coming months and years once we get the issue of the EU negotiation sorted, the right deal for Britain, we may very well see in the run-up to that, people wanting to come here to the UK before that exit happens."
Her remarks will be viewed as an admission that controlling migration even after the UK has left the EU will be incredibly difficult.
Meanwhile, the two leading candidates to be the next British prime minister differ on how urgent it is to trigger Article 50, the formal step that will kick-start Britain's negotiations with the EU on the terms of its exit from the bloc.
Ms May said Britain needed to be clear about its negotiating stance and that she would not be rushed into triggering the article this year, while Junior Energy Minister Andrea Leadsom struck a more urgent tone, saying Britain needed to "get a grip and make progress".
Five candidates are vying to succeed Mr Cameron as Conservative Party leader and prime minister. The field will be whittled down to two by the party's MPs, before grassroots party members pick the winner by September 9.
Elsewhere, former UK prime minister Tony Blair has said Britain should keep its "options open" over leaving the European Union because the "will of the people" could change. The government, he said, should delay triggering Article 50 "for as long as it takes to get an idea of how the other side looks".
A downturn in economic fortunes could lead to a change in attitudes about the country's future outside the EU, Mr Blair suggested.
He continued: "One of the reasons why we should keep our options open is that yes, the referendum expressed the will of the people, but the will of the people is entitled to change." (© Daily Telegraph, London)