ROME Foreign Secretary Boris Johnson said on Thursday that Britain's planned exit from the European Union was about taking back control of immigration.
Sky News earlier reported that Johnson had told four EU ambassadors, who were not named, that he was personally in favor of allowing free movement of people within the bloc.
Prime Minister Theresa May has said Britons' vote in June to leave the EU was a message that free movement of people from the EU could not continue unchanged.
In the lobby of a Rome hotel hosting a conference sponsored by the Italian Foreign Ministry, Johnson said he had told EU ambassadors that Britain was leaving the bloc to be able to better control immigration.
"What I said very clearly to that group of ambassadors, I think it was at a breakfast, was that immigration had been a good thing for the UK in many respects, but it had got out of control and that we needed to take back control," Johnson told reporters.
Afterward, as he ducked into an elevator, Johnson would not respond directly to the question about whether he supported free movement of people, shouting back as the door closed: "Take back control, that is why we are leaving the European Union!"
(Reporting by Isla Binnie; writing by Steve Scherer; Editing by Kevin Liffey)