Outlining her 12 objectives for the UK’s exit from the European Union, May also nodded to the importance of science and innovation, and said part of her agenda is to “guarantee the rights of EU citizens who are already living in Britain”.
May reaffirmed the messages that the country will “continue to attract the brightest and the best to work or study in Britain”.
However, she said the “process must be managed properly so that our immigration system serves the national interest”.
“I know that you cannot control immigration overall when there is free movement to Britain from Europe”
And rather than pursuing membership of the Single Market, May outlined a strategy to “seek the greatest possible access to it through a new, comprehensive, bold and ambitious free trade agreement.”
Acknowledging some of the rhetoric presented during the referendum campaign on controlling immigration from the EU, she added: “I know that you cannot control immigration overall when there is free movement to Britain from Europe.
“Britain is an open and tolerant country. We will always want immigration, especially high-skilled immigration, we will always want immigration from Europe, and we will always welcome individual migrants as friends,” she said.
“But the message from the public before and during the referendum campaign was clear: Brexit must mean control of the number of people who come to Britain from Europe. And that is what we will deliver.”
Currently, over 125,000 of the half a million international students at UK universities are from EU countries. And 16% of academic staff at UK universities are from EU countries, while 12% are from non-EU countries.
May referred to the academic and scientific communities in the country as one of the “great strengths” of the nation, backed up by some of the world’s universities. Among May’s 12 objectives is seeking to make the UK one of the best places for science and innovation
“We have a proud history of leading and supporting cutting-edge research and innovation,” she said.
“So we will also welcome agreement to continue to collaborate with our European partners on major science, research, and technology initiatives.”
Responding to the speech, Nicola Dandridge, chief executive of Universities UK, said the organisation welcomed the prime minister’s commitment to ensuring that the UK remains open to international talent.
“It was good also to hear her talking about the international strength of our university system and the importance of continuing to collaborate in cutting-edge research and innovation.”
However, Dandridge added that Brexit negotiations “must ensure that the UK is still open to EU and international students and that we can continue to access valuable and collaborative European research networks”.
On June 23, 51.9% of the British voting electorate opted to leave the European Union in a referendum.
May confirmed in her speech that the deal agreed between the UK and the EU will be put to a vote in the Houses of Parliament before it comes into force.