EXETER, England (Reuters) - The level of immigration Britain would accept after a vote to leave the European Union would depend on the needs of the economy, former London mayor and de facto leader of the “Out” campaign Boris Johnson said on Wednesday.
Polls show immigration is a key voter concern ahead of a June 23 referendum on Britain’s EU membership and those who want to leave the bloc have made taking back control of the borders a central plank of their campaign. Business groups have expressed concern about the ability to hire EU workers following Brexit.
Johnson, touring southwest England on Out group Vote Leave’s campaign bus, declined to set an immigration cap.
“I haven’t got a figure in my head and I wouldn’t want to set a figure, but you need to look at each sector and you need to look at what the needs of the economy are, where it’s useful,” he told reporters.
“I’d have a system where you judged each case on its merits and you control it.”
Prime Minister David Cameron, who is campaigning for Britain to stay in the bloc, has come under pressure for failing to meet a 2010 promise to reduce the annual level of net migration to under 100,000. The current figure is more than three times that, according to official data.
Johnson, widely seen as a possible successor to Cameron, said politicians had been dishonest with the public about immigration and that it was having control over who comes to Britain rather than the numbers that was important.
“I‘m pro-immigration ... but it should be controlled and there should be honesty and transparency,” he said. “Politicians, if they’re going to have a pro-migration policy, should take responsibility for it, stand up and explain why.”
Johnson, who along with fellow Out campaigners will criss-cross the country in a big red bus over the next six weeks, was greeted by supporters at every stop on Wednesday.
At a picturesque harbour in Cornwall where he paused for an ice cream, he took a few licks before passing it on to a member of the public to finish so he could carry on handing out leaflets before hopping back on the bus to visit a local brewery.
Editing by Stephen Addison