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More Britons want greater control of immigration than EU free trade: poll

LONDON (Reuters) - Greater control of immigration is more important for Britons than access to free trade with the European Union during negotiations for the UK’s departure from the bloc, according to a poll on Monday.

A British government Home Office van is seen parked in west London, Britain, in this photograph taken on May 11, 2016. REUTERS/Toby Melville

Britain has said it will trigger formal negotiations with the EU by the end of March, starting a two-year process to define the future relationship of the UK with its biggest trading partner.

Pollster ORB found that 46 percent of Britons agreed that greater control over immigration was more important than access to free trade, while 39 percent disagreed.

That has flipped since November, when 43 percent disagreed and would prioritize access to free trade, compared to 41 percent who agreed.

“This poll clearly shows that if the country had to choose it would prefer greater control over its borders to access to free trade,” said Johnny Heald, managing director of ORB International.

“If we can’t have both, then having greater control over our borders is increasingly the preference.”

While Prime Minister Theresa May has been vague on her priorities heading into negotiations, markets have taken fright at hints at a deal which may threaten trade links, often called “hard Brexit”.

Sterling slid to a ten-week low on Monday morning after May said she was not interested in keeping “bits of membership” of the EU and denied her government’s strategy was muddled. [nL5N1EZ1GR]

The poll found that 62 percent of people disapproved of the way the government is handling Brexit negotiations, a level roughly unchanged since November.

The online survey polled 2,075 people, with fieldwork conducted between Jan. 6-8.

Reporting by Alistair Smout; editing by Stephen Addison