The chancellor outlined a package of measures at the spring statement designed to prepare Britain for life outside the EU, as well as for the hi-tech digital jobs of the future.
Alongside the central update on the economy, other announcements made by Philip Hammond included:
Against a backdrop of mounting concern over delays at airports in the event of a no-deal Brexit, the chancellor said citizens of the US, Canada, New Zealand, Australia, Japan, Singapore and South Korea would be permitted to use electronic passport gates at UK airports and at Eurostar stations from June. It comes after Portugal said it would create special lanes at airports for Britons arriving after Brexit.
European Economic Area nationals could also still benefit from using the e-gates, he said. Paper landing cards will also begin to be abolished.
“Our ambition is to be able to go further in due course. A signal to the world, of our commitment to global Britain,” he said.
From the autumn, jobs that require PhDs will become exempt from visa caps used by the government to control migration, in an extension of the plan to maintain Britain’s attractiveness after Brexit.
It follows similar steps to remove doctors and nurses from the cap on skilled workers entering Britain, and comes at a time of growing skills shortages across the country, which some observers warn have been exacerbated by the Brexit vote.
Business groups welcomed the policy on PhDs, while the free-market Institute of Economic Affairs thinktank said caps on skilled workers should be abolished entirely.
Edwin Morgan, the director of policy at the Institute of Directors, said: “It represents a small step forward in unleashing research and development activity at a time when wide skills gaps are emerging across the country.”
The chancellor announced new funding for several technology and science projects across the country, seen as requirements to prepare Britain to keep pace with the hi-tech economy of the future.
A new Extreme Photonics laser facility in Oxfordshire will get £81m, while there was a £45m funding pot announced for bioinformatics – the development of biological data – in Cambridge. Hammond also committed to funding the Joint European Torus, a nuclear fusion experiment in Oxfordshire, in the event the EU does not renew the contract for the project with the UK after Brexit.
A further £79m of funding was earmarked for a new supercomputer in Edinburgh that will be five times faster than existing capabilities. The project, known as Archer2, will contribute to discoveries in medicine, climate science and aerospace.
As part of funds to improve physical and digital infrastructure in local communities, Hammond announced £260m for the border regions of England and Scotland, known as the “borderlands growth deal”. It comes on top of funds for roads and housing for the area.
The chancellor said negotiations were progressing on future deals for mid-Wales and Derry in Northern Ireland, and that an updated national infrastructure strategy would be announced alongside the spending review later this year.
No mention, however, was made of the government’s £1.6bn “stronger towns fund”, which was roundly attacked as an inadequate Brexit bribe for poorer communities earlier this month.
After launching a fresh bid to curb the power of US tech giants in Britain, Hammond said he would ask the Competition and Markets Authority to carry out a review of the digital advertising market as soon as possible.
The chancellor said that, while Britain would remain welcoming to tech firms, the global tech giants should “pay their fair share”. He also said he wanted to ensure the public were “protected from online harms”.