EU Referendum

EU Leave campaigner Gove vows to meet PM's migration target

Michael Gove Image copyright Reuters

Leaving the EU would allow the UK to get net migration under 100,000 - a promise PM David Cameron has not been able to keep, Michael Gove has said.

Asked by ITV's Robert Peston if that meant cutting EU and non-EU migration, the justice secretary said: "Yes".

But he said it could not be done by 2020: "I wouldn't set a time limit for it but the ambition would be to bring it down to tens of thousands".

Mr Cameron insists his target can be achieved with Britain in the EU.

Annual net migration reached 333,000 in 2015, according to Office for National Statistics estimates.

The increase has largely been caused by a surge in immigration from central and southern EU states and fewer people emigrating, but more people are still arriving from outside the EU to take up jobs.

'Fairer'

The figure for EU-only net migration was 184,000, equalling its record high, and 188,000 for non-EU.

Vote Leave has proposed extending the points-based system that currently applies to citizens of non-EU countries wanting to work in the UK to EU citizens, if Britain votes to leave in the referendum on 23 June.

The out campaign has said this would be "fairer" to people from Commonwealth countries and other non-EU nations, whose citizens are "discriminated" against under the current system.

But meeting the target of cutting net migration to the "tens of thousands" would mean tighter entry requirements across the board, if immigration continues at its current levels, as Mr Gove appeared to acknowledge in his Peston interview.

The Treasury's economic forecasts are based on continued high levels of immigration - but Mr Gove denied cutting net migration by 70% would damage Britain's prosperity "because at the moment uncontrolled numbers coming in here only depress wages for working people".

He added: "It's also the case that they put a considerable strain on public services, on housing, on the National Health Service, and of course on school places.

"We grew very successfully in the 1980s and the 1990s with immigration in the tens of thousands."

'Escaping recession'

In a Sky TV Q&A last week, Mr Cameron said he did not "accept" that he would never meet his net migration target, first set in 2010, while Britain remained in the EU.

"I don't accept that. I think it remains the right ambition for Britain."

But he said it would be "madness" to try to control immigration "by trashing our economy and pulling out of the single market".

Meanwhile Mr Gove, former Conservative London mayor Boris Johnson and Labour MP Gisela Stuart have written to Mr Cameron to warn of the risks of remaining in the EU.

In their 2,000-word letter, they claim the eurozone's economic crisis is fuelling the rise in migration, as "millions of people in southern Europe, particularly young people, are giving up hope of their countries escaping recession" and head to Britain in "disproportionate" numbers.

They also claim that problem will "only get worse when countries in the pipeline to join the EU become members in the near future".

The letter also highlights a catalogue of alleged failures by the EU - and warns that eurozone countries "can impose their will and force us to accept laws that are not in our interests".

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