Boris Johnson last night pledged to introduce an Australian-style immigration system, despite warnings it will do nothing to cut the number of migrants coming to the UK.
In a significant policy announcement designed to get his campaign back on track, Mr Johnson revived his pledge from the EU referendum campaign to introduce a ‘tough’ points-based system modelled on the arrangement used Down Under.
It came as Mr Johnson was criticised by a leading Brexiteer over his claim there would be no trade tariffs on UK exports in the event of a No Deal Brexit. International Trade Secretary Liam Fox – who is backing Jeremy Hunt for leader – accused Mr Johnson of relying on ‘supposition’ instead of ‘facts’.
Mr Johnson’s immigration pledge would see Britain’s system refocused on highly skilled workers – and could result in a ban on over-50s. Prospective migrants would have to have a firm job offer before travelling and demonstrate ‘an ability to speak English’. They would be unable to claim benefits until they had completed a qualifying period in work.
Mr Johnson said: ‘We must be much more open to high-skilled immigration such as scientists, but we must also assure the public that, as we leave the EU, we have control over the number of unskilled immigrants coming into the country. We must be tougher on those who abuse our hospitality. Other countries such as Australia have great systems and we should learn from them.’
Boris Johnson last night pledged to introduce an Australian-style immigration system, despite warnings it will do nothing to cut the number of migrants coming to the UK
Sources in the Johnson campaign team last night said legislation would be introduced immediately through changes to the existing Immigration Bill.
But the new system will not be up and running until 2021, and the announcement made no mention of the Tory pledge to cut net immigration, which stands at 283,000 a year, to the ‘tens of thousands’.
The system will be based on the scheme used in Australia, where prospective migrants are scored on a points system to determine their value to the economy. Key factors include qualifications, skills and age. Applicants have to be aged under 50 to apply. EU migrants would not receive special treatment. But Mr Johnson said EU citizens already here would have their rights protected unilaterally, even if Britain leaves the EU without a deal.
But the Migration Watch think-tank last night warned there was little evidence the Australian-style scheme would address public concern over immigration levels.
It said: ‘This statement just ducks all the key issues. There is no mention whatsoever of reducing net migration, let alone how it might be achieved. The UK has had a points-based system for almost ten years and it hasn’t worked.’
Meanwhile, Dr Fox warned that a trade rules standstill would require the consent of EU leaders, after Mr Johnson suggested trade with the EU could continue as now even in the event of a No Deal.
Brexiteers have long pointed to the provisions of GATT 24 – the General Agreement on Tariffs and Trade – to suggest trade with the EU could continue without tariffs under No Deal. They say this provision allows for a ‘standstill’ in trade relations for up to ten years while a deal is being negotiated. But Dr Fox said bluntly: ‘This is not the case’.
Prospective migrants would have to have a firm job offer before travelling and demonstrate ‘an ability to speak English’
And Mr Hunt said last night: ‘There isn’t a No Deal route that allows us take advantage of GATT.’
The row exploded as a leading Tory said Mr Johnson would be prepared to defy a Parliamentary edict telling him to stop No Deal.
Mr Johnson has pledged that the UK would leave the EU before Halloween, but MPs opposed to No Deal are expected to use every Parliamentary avenue to try to stop it.
Yesterday Dominic Raab, who backed Mr Johnson after abandoning his own leadership ambitions, said a Commons motion opposing No Deal would have ‘zero legal effect’, and could simply be ignored.
n Justice Secretary David Gauke said last night he would quit the Cabinet if Mr Johnson became PM.
Mr Gauke, who opposes a No Deal Brexit and backed Rory Stewart for the leadership, told ITV: ‘I wouldn’t serve. I wouldn’t be able to give him full-hearted support.’
Hunt: Why I’m proud to have millions in the bank
Jeremy Hunt declared yesterday that he is proud to be a multi-millionaire.
The Tory leadership hopeful was responding to a suggestion by BBC Radio 2 presenter Jeremy Vine that he is the richest member of the Cabinet.
It came as Mr Hunt’s campaign gathered momentum, winning the support of fellow Cabinet ministers Rory Stewart and Damian Hinds, and Scottish Tory leader Ruth Davidson.
The Foreign Secretary will today announce that if he becomes prime minister young people who start businesses and employ staff will have their tuition fee debt waived.
Mr Hunt made £14million after selling his educational course listings business Hotcourses two years ago.
Defending his wealth on Radio 2 yesterday, he said: ‘I don’t think we should be going into the politics of envy.’
Jeremy Hunt, pictured in Chelmsford, declared yesterday that he is proud to be a multi-millionaire
Asked by Mr Vine – one of the BBC’s highest-paid presenters – how much he was worth, Mr Hunt said: ‘Hang on. My salary when I was running my business was far lower than your salary, if I may say.’
Mr Vine earned between £440,000 and £450,000 last year for his work on Radio 2 and the game show Eggheads.
Mr Hunt argued that being a successful entrepreneur should be seen as a positive thing, adding: ‘We have to encourage people who take risks and set up businesses and create jobs.
‘It’s not offensive – I am proud of my business success.’
Mr Hunt, 52, claimed his business background would help him get the best deal from Brussels.
During a phone-in segment, a caller told Mr Hunt he believed the EU was ‘treating us like dirt’ in Brexit talks. The Foreign Secretary replied: ‘That is exactly what I feel. I don’t think they have shown respect for us at all.’
He will today announce a plan for graduates’ tuition fee debts to be cancelled if they create a start-up that employs more than ten people for five years. At present, just 1 per cent of graduates start their own businesses.
Mr Hunt will say: ‘If we are to turbocharge our economy and take advantage of Brexit, we need to back the young entrepreneurs who take risks and create jobs.’
Jeremy Hunt took part in a string of photo stunts as he drummed up support for his leadership bid in Essex yesterday. Pictured: visiting a hairdresser in Canvey Island
He also drove a cab in Canvey Island as part of his Tory leadership campaign today
The Foreign Secretary was pictured stopping for selfies in Chelmsford town centre
The Foreign Secretary told a Tory internet hustings he wanted online voting introduced for general elections. ‘I think it will encourage more participation in democracy,’ he said.
Mr Hunt also faced a row over his answer in an online Q&A session on Tuesday night.
After a Tory councillor asked how he would unite the country after Brexit, he replied: ‘Deliver a Brexit that works for the 48 per cent not just the 52 per cent – a positive, open and internationalist Brexit, Great Britain, not Little England.’
Some of Boris Johnson’s supporters accused him of describing Brexiteers as Little Englanders, which he denied.