UK population 'to soar by the size of Scotland' if voters reject Brexit, claims Michael Gove
Britain's population could soar by 5.2 million - the equivalent of the size of Scotland - within 15 years if voters back Remain in the EU referendum, Michael Gove said today.
In a startling prediction, the Justice Secretary said an additional 5.2 million EU citizens may settle in the UK by 2030 if plans to let another five countries join the bloc go ahead.
Mr Gove said that would put "unsustainable" pressure on the National Health Service, with an extra £9.3bn of taxpayers' cash, 14,746 doctors and 43,193 nurses needed to cope with the influx.
The forecast was contained in a document produced by the Vote Leave campaign but has been dismissed as "nonsense" by the pro-EU campaign.
Albania, Macedonia, Montenegro, Serbia and Turkey - the so-called A5 - are all official candidates to join the EU in the future if they meet strict criteria.
David Cameron has insisted it will be "decades" before Turkey, which has a population of 77 million people, will be able to do so. But Vote Leave say all five could be members by 2020.
In their 36-page dossier published today, the highest in a range of population forecasts is that annual net migration to Britain from the EU will hit 428,000 by 2030, the equivalent of adding a city the size of Bristol every year.
"5.23 million persons will be added to the UK population as a direct result, the equivalent of the population of Scotland," the document says.
Even if none of the five countries joins the EU, Vote Leave predicts net migration to the UK will hit 2.5 million by 2030.
Mr Gove said a vote for Brexit would allow the UK to control its borders and invest billions of pounds - usually sent to Brussels - in the health service.
He said: "The reality is that voting to Remain and continuing with a policy of free movement and enlargement will continue putting huge additional pressure on the NHS.
"There is only one way the public can take back control and that is to vote Leave.
"We can ensure that we give the NHS the additional support and investment that the public believe in and future generations deserve."
Mr Gove also insisted that the population projections, which were drawn up by Vote Leave itself based on Office for National Statistics data, were "a robust and methodologically fair assessment of what will happen if we vote to Remain and the policies of enlargement and free movement continue".
STRONGER IN RESPONSE
Britain Stronger In Europe, however, has accused the Justice Secretary of "staggering" hypocrisy.
“Wrecking the economy by leaving Europe would make our NHS weaker – and patients would pay the price," said former Labour leader Neil Kinnock.
“These figures are nonsense because accession of these countries is not remotely on the cards. But what is certain is that leaving the EU’s Single Market of 500 million people would devastate our economy and cut people’s wages. Analysis by the Treasury shows it will create a £36bn black hole in the public finances. This would leave less money available for our health service.
“Michael Gove’s hypocrisy is staggering. Just a year ago, he admitted that our NHS relies on over 100,000 workers from the EU, and supported the living wage that benefits low-paid British workers. Now he’s turned his back on both.
“Patients, doctors and nurses are stronger thanks to our membership of the EU. Leaving would be a leap in the dark that would put our NHS at risk.”