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David Cameron will be unable to fulfil his manifesto promise to cut net migration to the tens of thousands if Britain votes to remain in the EU, leading Leave campaigner Michael Gove has said.
Mr Gove, the justice secretary and a close friend of Mr Cameron’s, said he had “hoped and prayed” that the government would secure limits to free movement within the EU as part of the prime minister’s renegotiation process, but that had not happened.
“I don’t blame him, I do blame the other countries of Europe,” Mr Gove told the BBC’s Today programme.
He warned that voters would lose trust in the political system if the government did not deliver its vow to reduce migration substantially. A win for the Leave campaign in Thursday’s referendum would give Britain a mandate to negotiate a better deal with the EU, he said.
In the event of a vote to Leave, Britain would have control of the timetable for its departure and could choose when to trigger it, Mr Gove said, which means “it is in the economic self-interest of other EU countries to come to a good deal with us”.
Asked whether he could remain a member of the government in the event of a Remain win, Mr Gove said he would “reflect and decide what is the right choice for me”.
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Britain’s migration policy has come under scrutiny in recent days, as Eurosceptics attempt to focus wavering voters’ attention on the level of immigration from the EU.
The prime minister’s former adviser Steve Hilton has claimed that Mr Cameron was warned by officials as early as 2012 that his pledge to cut migration to the tens of thousands was unfeasible.
Mr Cameron was corroding the public’s trust in politics by insisting it was still achievable, said Mr Hilton — a longstanding friend of the prime minister who is backing the Leave campaign.
No 10 said it did not recognise Mr Hilton’s characterisation of events. Former deputy prime minister Nick Clegg said large-scale migration would continue whether Britain left the EU or not.
Meanwhile, the chorus of international business, finance figures and celebrities warning against Brexit continues to grow.
George Soros warned of a “Black Friday” in the markets if voters opt to leave the EU on Thursday, while Hong Kong’s richest man Li Ka-shing called on British people not to vote Leave.
“If Brexit happens it will be detrimental to the UK and it will have a negative impact to the whole of Europe,” he told Bloomberg TV in his first international interview for four years. Mr Li — one of Britain’s biggest investors — said three months ago that he would scale back his investment in the UK if it chose to leave the EU.
Economist Nouriel Roubini, best known for his doomladen predictions ahead of the 2008 financial crisis, also voiced his concerns over a vote to leave.
“Brexit would cause significant damage to the UK economy and to the employment and wellbeing of Britons. The UK is much better off inside the EU,” he wrote on Twitter.
Mr Gove hit back at the suggestion that a British exit would hit the economy, calling the EU “a job-destroying, misery-inducing, unemployment-creating tragedy”.
The Remain camp received a boost from the endorsement of former England football captain David Beckham.
“We live in a vibrant and connected world where together as a people we are strong,” the former Manchester United midfielder said in a statement. “For our children and their children we should be facing the problems of the world together and not alone.”