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PM’s ‘People before passports’ pledge to Africa in post-Brexit trade pitch

By Sam Blewett, PA Political Correspondent

Boris Johnson has set out his post-Brexit trade pitch to African leaders with his vision to put “people before passports” in an immigration system overhaul.

The Prime Minister was tempting premiers from across the continent with the UK’s financial and education systems as he opened his investment summit in London’s Docklands on Monday.

He also announced an end to UK support for thermal coal mining or coal power plants overseas in a bid to use trade to tackle the climate crisis.

Meanwhile, the PM also met the Duke of Sussex in private with no aides present for about 20 minutes at the margins of the summit.

The behind-closed-doors discussion came the morning after Harry said there was “no other option” but for him and his wife to stand down from the royal family.

With the EU departure coming on January 31, Mr Johnson was pledging to be a partner “through thick and thin” with African nations as he eyes fresh trade deals across the globe.

And the PM made a pitch for improved business links from his proposed Australian-style immigration system.

“Change is coming and our system is becoming fairer and more equal between all our global friends and partners, treating people the same, wherever they come from,” he told the UK-Africa Investment Summit.

“By putting people before passports, we will be able to attract the best talent from around the world, wherever they may be.”

The Duke of Sussex also attended the summit (Stefan Rousseau/PA)

Mr Johnson gave current partnership examples of Nigerian street lights being stocked with low-emission diodes from Dorset, and Angolan families tucking into chicken from Northern Ireland.

“We want to build a new future as a global free-trading nation, that’s what we will be embarking on on January 31,” he said.

“But I want to intensify and expand that trade in ways that go far beyond what we sell you or you sell us.

“I’ve just told President (Yoweri) Museveni of Uganda that his beef cattle will have an honoured place on the tables of post-Brexit Britain.”

But – in an unwelcome eve-of-summit development for organisers – leaked documents exposed by media outlets including the BBC and the Guardian alleged that Africa’s richest woman amassed her fortune by corruption and exploiting her nation.

Isabel dos Santos was forced to deny allegations that she got access to lucrative deals involving land, diamonds, oil and telecoms when her father was president of Angola.

Mr Johnson also spoke of the climate crisis and fight to save biodiversity by ending direct official development assistance, investment and export credit as part of his coal plan.

Boris Johnson visits the Pavegen stand, a company that converts footsteps into energy, in the Innovation Zone during the UK-Africa Investment Summit (Leon Neal/PA)

“There’s no point in the UK reducing the amount of coal we burn if we then trundle over to Africa and line our pockets by encouraging African states to use more of it,” he said.

“To put it simply not another penny of UK taxpayers’ money will be directly invested in digging up coal or burning it for electricity.”

The PM was meeting presidents from Rwanda, Ghana and Nigeria at the summit, and was due to have talks with the premiers of Egypt and Kenya at Downing Street on Tuesday.

Later on Monday, the Duke and Duchess of Cambridge were hosting a Buckingham Palace reception to mark the summit.