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LONDON (Reuters) - The chairman of Britain's biggest private sector employer, Tesco (TSCO.L), has warned that a cap on immigration will have a "materially detrimental effect on the UK economy."
John Allan, chairman of the supermarket and of housebuilder Barratt Developments (BDEV.L), told The Times newspaper on Thursday that an over-restrictive immigration policy would drive the British economy down.
"That will be bad for everyone. It will lead to fewer jobs and decreasing real wages," Allan said in his role as chairman of lobby group London First.
He called for an "intelligent debate" on the immigration issue.
Prime Minister Theresa May promised on Wednesday to listen more closely to business concerns about Britain leaving the European Union when she set out a Brexit-focused government programme, pared back to reflect her weakened authority in the wake of an election that saw her lose her parliamentary majority.
She plans a bill to repeal EU law on immigration to end free movement, and make migration of EU nationals subject to UK law.
The government remains committed to its target to reduce immigration to the tens of thousands.
"No one in the business community now believes there can be a complete free-for-all in terms of immigration. We have got to have some regime. But it has got to be an intelligent regime, as opposed to simply a blanket ban on bringing people in," said Allan.
Tesco has a UK workforce of 310,000, though it announced up to 1,100 job cuts on Wednesday.
Separately on Thursday the BBC reported that British summer fruit and salad growers are having difficulty recruiting pickers with more than half saying they did not know if they will have enough migrant workers to harvest their crops.
The BBC said its survey found growers blamed the weak pound which has reduced workers' earning power, as well as uncertainty over Brexit.
Reporting by James Davey Editing by Jeremy Gaunt.