Gove warns of 'unsustainable' migrant pressure on NHS if no Brexit
Published 20/05/2016 | 00:06
A migrant influx equivalent to the population of Scotland will put "unsustainable" pressure on the NHS by 2030 unless Britain quits the EU, Justice Secretary Michael Gove has warned.
The Cabinet heavyweight insisted the worst case scenario figure of 5,229,000 more net migrants over the next 15 years was realistic, even though it assumes Turkey, Albania, Serbia, Montenegro, and the Former Yugoslav Republic of Macedonia, will join the EU in 2020, and the UK will not impose transitional immigration controls on them.
Attempting to push immigration to the heart of the referendum campaign, Mr Gove insisted the national living wage would act as a pull factor resulting in "huge additional pressure" on the NHS.
The Cabinet Minister said that between 172,000 - 428,000 migrants a year would be arriving in the UK until 2030, meaning A&E attendances would spiral by between 6.3 million - 12.8 million annually, increasing emergency NHS demand by between 28% - 57%.
With the Office for National Statistics predicting a three million increase in migration by 2030, Mr Gove said that even if no other countries join the EU, the current level of 172,000 people arriving annually over the next 15 years will continue at a time when the NHS needed an extra £4.6 billion a year just to stand still.
Denying he was scaremongering, the Justice Secretary said the British Government was in favour of Turkey joining the EU, and Brussels was speeding-up the process.
"Citizens from these countries will inevitably be attracted to the UK, not just because of our free health care, but also because of the additional pull factor that will result from the welcome introduction of the national living wage.
"The European Commission is in the process of speeding-up the accession process. It is already setting up the visa free travel programme with Turkey. That will create a zone of free movement from our borders to the borders of Syria and Iraq," Mr Gove said.
Depending on various factors, the Leave campaign figures project a "low" forecast of an extra 3,193,000 net migrants over the next 15 years, a "medium" forecast of 4,252,000, and a "high" one of 5,229,000.
Mr Gove insisted the referendum decision "should be respected" even if it was a narrow win for Remain.
The move came as European Commission president Jean-Claude Juncker warned the UK will not be "welcomed with open arms" by the remaining EU if it votes to "desert" the 28-nation bloc in the June 23 referendum.
Mr Juncker insisted that he was not making a "threat", but being realistic about the damage caused by Brexit.
Comparing the UK to a pet which does not enjoy its fur being rubbed up the wrong way, the European Commission president said Britain would not "have its hair stroked in the right direction" by the rest of Europe if it chose to leave.
Asked by French newspaper Le Monde how Brussels would respond to a Leave vote, Mr Juncker said: "'Deserters will not be welcomed with open arms.
"If the British say no - which I hope they will not - community life will not carry on as before. The United Kingdom will have to accept being considered as a third party, which does not have its hair stroked in the right direction."
The intervention came as Prime Minister David Cameron mingled with stars including The Wire actor Dominic West as leading showbiz figures gave their backing to the UK remaining in the European Union.
Hollywood actors including Benedict Cumberbatch, Chiwetel Ejiofor and Keira Knightley are among the big names who have backed the Remain cause.
In a further boost to the Remain camp, Canadian prime minister Justin Trudeau gave his backing to the UK staying in the EU and warned that a post-Brexit trade deal would not be easy.
Mr Cameron visited London's Abbey Road Studios - and walked across the zebra crossing made famous by The Beatles - after 282 figures from the entertainment industry including authors Dame Hilary Mantel and John le Carre signed a letter supporting a Remain vote.
Responding to Vote Leave's estimates of the impact of future migration, Foreign Secretary Philip Hammond told BBC Radio 4's World At One: "These figures are very often just plucked from thin air and they are not designed to inform, they are designed to confuse.
"We've made absolutely clear that we won't contemplate further member states joining the EU until their economies have developed to such a level that they are at least at the European Union average."
Dave Prentis, general secretary of the public sector union Unison, said: "No-one should be taken in by this latest bout of NHS scaremongering from the Brexit brigade.
"Nurses, health visitors, midwives and other health workers who have come to work in the NHS from across the EU have thrown a lifeline to our health service, which quite simply would have gone under without them.
"There is already a £2.45 billion black hole in the NHS's bank balance. The health service is in desperate need of cash and a period of stability.
"A vote to leave next month would mean neither of those. Instead, unprecedented economic instability would result and place untold pressure on the NHS's already perilous finances."
Remain campaigners highlighted comments by Brexit standard-bearer Boris Johnson, who said in March that Turkey would not join the EU "in the foreseeable future" and the idea of 75 million Turks having visa-free travel was "simply not on the cards".
Labour MP Chuka Umunna said: " The opportunistic hypocrisy of the Leave campaign has reached new depths. Boris Johnson's own comments expose their central claims as being a lie.
"Vote Leave know there will be no new EU countries in the foreseeable future but are lying because they have lost the economic argument.
"The truth is, you do not control immigration by damaging the economy and sending Britain back to recession, which experts say would happen if we vote to leave."
Vote Leave also produced a video challenging Mr Cameron's insistence that Turkey should not be an issue in the referendum.
The video showed footage of the PM speaking during a 2010 visit to the country, when he said he backed EU membership for Turkey and wanted to "pave the road from Ankara to Brussels", alongside a film of MPs fighting in the Turkish Parliament earlier this year.
Vote Leave said the UK was currently paying more than £1 billion to help Turkey join the EU.
Liberal Democrat equalities spokeswoman Baroness Hussein-Ece branded the video "a xenophobic attack from a Leave campaign that knows it is losing the debate".
"Stigmatising Turkey and the people who live there is a dangerous move which comes from the propaganda playbooks of 100 years ago," said Lady Hussein-Ece.
"Boris Johnson knows that Turkey won't be joining the EU any time soon; they have been a candidate since 1987 and have only met one target of the 36 stipulated by the EU.
"Yet again Boris has recklessly made up new 'facts' on the spot."