Between 2.6 and 5 million more migrants could come to live in the UK over the next 15 years if we remain within the European Union, putting an unprecedented strain on the NHS, the Justice Secretary has warned.
Albania, Macedonia, Montenegro, Serbia and Turkey, who have a combined population of 88 million people, are all on the path to joining the European Union. If successful, their citizens will be handed the right to freely come and live in the UK just as the British minimum wage hits an all-time high, creating a massive pull factor for workers.
“Even without the accession of any new countries, we can expect a continuing net flow of 172,000 new individuals from the EU into the UK every year. That adds up to 2.58 million new people arriving here from the EU over the next 15 years,” Michael Gove said in a speech.
But the accession of the five candidate countries could see that figure double, to equal the current population of Scotland.
“The EU is already paying them €17.7 billion a year to help them join, nearly £2 billion of which comes from British taxpayers’ pockets,” said Mr Gove.
“Citizens from these countries will inevitably be attracted to the UK, not just because of our free healthcare but also because of the additional pull factor that will result from the introduction of the national living wage.
“The idea of asking the NHS to look after a new group of patients equivalent in size to four Birminghams is, clearly, unsustainable.”
He predicted that the rise in population would see a rise in Accident and Emergency (A&E) attendances of between six and thirteen million visits a year, piling enormous demand on a system already under strain. During the winter of 2014/15 A&E doctors were forced to treat patients in makeshift tents set up in car parks to cope with the level of demand on the service. All non-essential operations were also cancelled to cope with demand.
And he pointed out that the NHS is already having to find an extra £30 billion every year until 2020 just to stay still; higher migration would mean having to find a further four and nine billion pounds every year by 2030, as well as tens of thousands of new doctors and nurses.
“The public has never been given a vote on this enlargement. We never got a vote on the accession of Bulgaria and Romania. And if we vote to Remain on 23 June then there will be no future occasion on which we can vote to prevent the further enlargement of the EU.”
But a vote to leave the EU would not only mean taking back control over immigration, it would also mean repatriating £9 billion a year net currently going to the EU to be spent on their pet projects.
“I propose that after we vote leave on 23 June, the Government uses millions of pounds saved in ending EU contributions to give a cash transfusion to the NHS,” Mr Gove argued.
“From all the money that can be saved, I am absolutely confident that we can maintain support for those deserving groups who now get subsidies from the EU – such as family farmers and scientists – while also giving the NHS an injection of additional billions.
“Boris [Johnson] and I will use all our influence within Government to give the NHS additional support when we wake up on 24 June.”
The Prime Minister David Cameron came under fire earlier this month when he suggested that Turkey would not be joining the EU any time soon.
“I would say very clearly to people: If your vote in this referendum is being influenced by considerations about Turkish membership of the EU, don’t think about it. It is not remotely on the cards.
“It is not an issue in this referendum and it shouldn’t be,” Mr Cameron told a group of MPs.
But critics pointed out that, six years ago the Prime Minister, on a visit to Turkey, said: “I will remain your strongest possible advocate for EU membership and for greater influence at the top table of EU diplomacy.
“This is something I feel very strongly, very passionately about. Together I want us to pave the road from Ankara to Brussels.”
Meanwhile the Chancellor George Osborne has called the introduction of the living wage, which is set to fuel higher migration to the UK, one of his “proudest” moments. He added that he was “angry” some employers were cutting staff perks to pay for it, and said it was right that companies were being “shamed” into restoring those perks.
“One of the things I’m proudest of in the years of doing this job is introducing the national living wage. As the economy recovered we had to make sure that everyone benefited and it’s just come into effect this month. It means a £900 pay rise for a low-paid person,” he said.
“I think that companies these days should be much more careful about their reputation and much more aware of their social responsibility to their workforce as well as to their community.
“There are examples of companies that provided a free lunch and have cancelled it. I think they are being outed. That is all a way of shaming these companies. They are being shamed into doing the right thing.”