THE Chancellor has admitted Brexit is a barrier to growth as he attempted to defend misery for millions in his austerity budget.

In a radio interview Jeremy Hunt, who yesterday unveiled a punishing plan to plug a £55 billion hole in public finances over the next five years, conceded that having “unfettered trade with our neighbours” was good for economic growth.

The Chancellor was forced into the concession on BBC Radio 4’s Today programme on Friday, after he confirmed in the Autumn Statement the day before that the UK was in the throes of a recession which will see living standards collapse, according to the Office for Budget Responsibility.

The spending watchdog yesterday said disposable income would fall in real terms over the next two financial years by 7% - wiping out eight years of “improvement”.

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Asked if rejoining the single market would boost growth, the Chancellor said: “I think having unfettered trade with our neighbours and countries all over the world is very beneficial to growth.

“I have great confidence that over the years ahead we will find outside the single market we are able to remove the vast majority of the trade barriers that exist between us and the EU. It will take time.”

But he insisted that re-joining the single market was not the right way to boost growth because it would go against the will of those who backed Brexit in 2016.

He added: “I don’t think it’s the right way to boost growth because it would be against what people were voting for when they supported Brexit which was to have control of our borders and membership of the single market requires free movement of people.

“So I think we can find other ways that will more than compensate for those advantages.”

On Question Time on Thursday night, SNP Westminster leader Ian Blackford made the case for increased immigration to the UK to boost economic growth.

He said: “If it wasn’t for Brexit then we wouldn’t have needed the austerity we’ve now got coming down the line.

“If we look at what’s happened since the pandemic, 1.3 EU citizens have gone back home, they’ve been lost to the economy – that’s the impact on the labour market.

“Let me give you the very real example of a bakery in my own constituency, in Fort William, Nevis Bakery.

“They told me just the other week, that they could double tomorrow - 60% of their staff used to be European trained, qualified bakers. They now can’t recruit them.

“That’s the missing growth opportunity. That’s what Brexit has done to us.”