Britain will have to relax immigration rules for Australians if it wants to strike a free trade deal with the Commonwealth nation, its high commissioner to London has said.
Theresa May has made clear that she wants to reform the UK’s relationship with the EU customs union so it can agree trade deals with countries from around the world after Brexit.
Australia is ready to reach a deal with Britain and it may take on more urgency given United States president Donald Trump’s wish to pursue an “America first” strategy, raising doubts about a potential UK-US agreement.
Mr Downer told BBC Radio 4’s Today programme: We would want to see greater access for Australian businesspeople working in the UK and that’s often been a part of free trade negotiations – it hasn’t always been by the way, but it’s often been part of our free trade negotiations.
He went on: “It might just make it a bit simpler actually, for example an Australian company that invests in the UK might want to bring some of its executives to the UK.
That can be done with what are called Tier 2 visas but maybe that could be made a little bit easier, I suspect they would be the only sort of changes you’d be looking at.
Any negotiation over visa arrangements could be conducted separately but at the same time as a deal for the free movement of goods and services between the two nations, he suggested.
An Australia-UK agreement could be reached very quickly after Brexit, given that Canberra struck a deal with the US in eight months during George W Bush’s presidency, he said.
Mr Downer said a similar timeframe could be realistic if Britain does not want to protect certain industries and revealed exploratory discussions had already taken place at many levels.
We have had discussions with them at all sorts of different levels, including ministerial level, we have set up a working group to explore the scope of what a free trade agreement might look like, he said.