Scotland politics

EU referendum: Holyrood 'could control immigration' after Brexit

welcome to scotland sign Image copyright SamRyley
Image caption The Scottish government has called for work visas for foreign students to be reinstated by the UK government

Scotland could be given greater control over immigration if the UK exits the European Union, a leading figure from the Leave campaign has claimed.

Immigration policy across the UK is currently decided by the Home Office.

But Michael Gove, the Westminster government's justice secretary, said it would be "for Scotland to decide" on immigration numbers to the country after Brexit.

First Minister Nicola Sturgeon said Mr Gove had told a "fib and a half".

The Scottish government has been a vocal critic of UK immigration policy, which it has argued is too heavily influenced by the priorities of the south east of England.

Skilled workers

And it has said reducing the numbers of incoming migrants does not recognise Scotland's economic needs, with the country facing an increasingly ageing population and some rural areas struggling to attract skilled workers.

Campaigners on both sides of the EU debate have also highlighted potential difficulties in devolving immigration to Holyrood - such as how to prevent people who arrive in Scotland from then moving to other parts of the UK.

In other EU referendum campaign developments:

Appearing on the BBC's Good Morning Scotland programme, Mr Gove was asked by presenter Gary Robertson how many people would be allowed to come to Scotland under the Leave campaign's immigration proposals.

Mr Gove responded: "It would be for Scotland to decide because under the proposals that we have put forward we believe that a points based immigration policy - similar to the one that was actually put forward as a model for an independent Scotland by Nicola Sturgeon - would be the right approach."

He said Tom Harris, who is heading the Leave campaign in Scotland, had written to Ms Sturgeon explaining how Scotland "can have a greater degree of control over immigration policy" after Brexit.

Mr Gove highlighted the case of the Brain family, who moved to the Scottish Highlands from Australia under a student visa scheme, but are now facing the threat of deportation.

He said EU membership meant there were no limits on people who could move the UK from other EU countries, but there were limits on non-EU countries such as Australia.

Image copyright Getty Images
Image caption Michael Gove said immigration could only be controlled if the UK left the EU

Mr Gove added: "Ultimately, immigration is a good thing for Britain and for Scotland. But if immigration is to be controlled, then we have to be outside the European Union because within the EU there is no means by which we can control the number of people who come from other EU nations."

"If, in the course of the negotiations, the Scottish Parliament wants to play a role in deciding how a particular visa system could work, much as it works in other parts of the European Economic Area, then that is something we'll look into.

"Ultimately, the numbers who would come in the future would be decided by the Westminster parliament and the Holyrood parliament working together."

He said Holyrood would be strengthened in other areas if the country left the EU, with new powers over fishing, agriculture and some social areas.

Mr Gove also insisted there was "no mandate and no support for a second referendum on Scotland's position in the UK" even if Scotland votes to Remain while the UK as a whole backs Leave.

301 Moved Permanently

Moved Permanently

The document has moved here.

Ms Sturgeon, who is backing the Remain campaign ahead of the EU referendum on 23 June, took to Twitter to accuse Mr Gove of telling a "fib and a half" with his immigration comments.

And former first minister Alex Salmond, who is now the SNP's foreign affairs spokesman at Westminster, said Mr Gove was "talking nonsense on ermine-clad stilts".

He said: "The truth of course is that the Brexiteers will say anything at this stage in the campaign. They run about England telling people they are going to slash immigration and now Gove comes to Scotland to tell us we will be able to attract more people.

"The Lord Chancellor is talking nonsense on ermine-clad stilts - what is standing in the way of Scotland having the immigration powers we need isn't the EU, it's the UK government."

Mr Salmond added: "The Brain family are not suffering from any impositions of the European Union. They are suffering at the hands of Gove's Tory government.

"Scotland had some discretion on immigration policy to attract young families to the Highlands but that was removed by Gove and his Tory colleagues."

In a speech later, former Prime Minister Gordon Brown will say fears over the impact of foreign workers on local communities would be better addressed by insisting on more money to boost stretched public services than ending free movement rights.

The UK would be "in pole position" to champion change when it takes the rotating presidency of the EU in 2017, he will say.