Boris Johnson: Public approval will dictate immigration policy

13 May 2016

Boris Johnson spoke out on immigration during his first day on the Vote Leave bus tour in Cornwall. He claimed that immigration could remain high in the event that Britain leaves the EU if politicians are able to make the case to the UK British public that new arrivals boost the economy.

The former London mayor argued that the UK should leave the EU in order to eliminate foreign workers who do not have legitimate offers of employment or required skills. However, he was hesitant to say that Britain should enforce a cap on the overall numbers. The Remain campaigners have so far leaned on positive economic arguments for staying in the EU, whereas Leave campaigners have been divided on the issue of immigration.

Johnson said the government had not been upfront with the British public regarding the true extent of immigration. Data due to be released later this month on national insurance numbers is expected to show that more EU citizens are working in the UK than recorded in official statistics. He also said that leaders did not appreciate the impact high immigration had on the NHS, schools and other public services.

Johnson appeared to aim a direct reproach at David Cameron, who is backing the campaign to remain within the EU, when he argued that the government had mislead the UK public in regards to immigration. He criticised Cameron and others for making a pledge to reduce the annual rate of immigration by tens of thousands, when this was clearly not feasible as a member of the EU.

However, when Johnson himself was asked about the level of immigration he would like to see, he said: "We’re not going to have uncontrolled immigration, but we’re not going to get into the situation of how many and by when - that depends on the system you bring in. What you don’t have is increases of the scale that we’ve seen in the past few years." Johnson’s response is somewhat different than Ukip leader Nigel Farage, who is also a leave campaigner. Farage has said that he would want to reduce net immigration by 30,000 to 50,000 a year, which would equal a 90% drop from the current figure of 300,000.

Several Brexit voters in Cornwall did state that they wanted to leave the EU in order to stop so many Muslims coming to the UK. However, Johnson responded by saying that as his great-grandfather was a Muslim who came to the UK, this was not his motivator. He explained that his aim was to bring about greater democracy and accountability. Mark Gosbee, a member of the public in Cornwall, said he felt that people campaigning for the Leave campaign showed more overall passion. He explained that he would likely vote to leave the EU, purely economic reasons, rather than anything to do with immigration.

When pressed on the matter, Johnson said EU citizens already in the UK would be allowed to stay after Brexit. He rebuffed the suggestion of justice minister and Vote Leave campaigner, Dominic Raab, who contended that the result of Brexit could be that British people would need to apply for visas to travel to the rest of Europe. The referendum vote will take place on the 23rd of June.

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