UK Prime Minister Rishi Sunak on Monday unveiled a new plan for the world’s 100 most talented young artificial intelligence (AI) professionals as part of his vision to make the UK a “beacon” to attract the “brightest and best from around the world.
At the annual Confederation of British Industry (CBI) conference in Birmingham, Sunak told an audience of business leaders and professionals that control over the country’s post-Brexit immigration policy remains crucial.
However, he pledged to create “one of the world’s most attractive visa regimes for entrepreneurs and highly educated people” and to use the “Brexit freedoms” to negotiate trade deals with “the world’s fastest growing economies”.
The UK is currently negotiating a free trade agreement (FTA) with India, which Sunak has previously told parliament he wants to finalize “as soon as possible”.
“We cannot allow the world’s best AI talent to be drawn to America or China,” Sunak said.
“That is why, building on the AI scholarships and masters conversion courses I established as chancellor, we are launching a program to identify and attract the world’s top 100 young talents in the field of AI,” he said.
He then reiterated his determination to tackle illegal immigration into the country to build confidence in the system following Britain’s departure from the European Union (EU) to end the free movement of people within the economic bloc.
“We have to be honest with ourselves. Part of the reason we ended the free movement of workers was to restore public consent in our immigration system. If we want to have a system that gives companies access to the best and brightest people from around the world, we need to do more to give the British people confidence that the system works and is fair.
“That means tackling illegal migration and that’s what I’m determined to do,” Sunak said.
His speech came as the CBI called on the government to allow more immigration to address labor shortages in certain sectors of the UK economy, such as the hospitality industry.
“We don’t have the people we need, nor the productivity,” said CBI director general Tony Danker.
Sunak told the conference that he believes the problems can be overcome by leveraging innovation to drive economic growth, embedding innovation in public services and equipping people with skills to become “great innovators.”
“One factor in particular is driving growth: innovation has accounted for about half of the productivity gains in the UK over the last 50 years. But the rate of increase has slowed significantly since the financial crisis. This difference explains all of our productivity gap with the United States States,” Sunak said.
“We are absolutely committed to using our Brexit freedoms to create the most pro-innovation regulation in the world,” he said.
Concluding his first major corporate policy speech as prime minister, the British Indian leader called innovation the “golden thread” of the UK’s national narrative.
“The idea of what is yet to be discovered is certainly greater than anything that has happened before. I want the UK to become a place of learning, discovery and imagination, of potential realized and aspirations fulfilled. That is how we will improve the lives of all our people. And as your prime minister, that’s what I’m going to do,” he said.
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