Boris Johnson has been accused of lying to voters over his election pledge to reduce immigration levels as Labour say they would not mind if numbers went up if the economy and the NHS needed workers.
The shadow health secretary, Jonathan Ashworth, said the EU’s free movement of people has been good for the UK, and criticised the prime minister’s proposal to allow the migration advisorycommittee the power to set quotas and hand out visas.
Ashworth told Sky’s Sophy Ridge show: “He is misleading the British people, because he’s tried to give the impression he’s going to bring immigration down but when you look at the details of what he has announced today he is saying you’ve got to hand over decisions on who will get a visa to an independent committee.
“There will be no democratic control. There will be no accountability over any decision that any immigration minister makes because they will be handed over to a statutory independent committee. So again, Boris Johnson is lying to the British people.”
Just days before voters go to the polls, the Tories have given more detail on their migration policy. As well as an enhanced role for the migration advisory committee, they will also publish an annual report on how to reduce the level of immigration.
Within their Australian style-points system, Johnson said there will be three tiers of eligibility to come to the UK. Those with talent and exceptional skills, those who are specialists like NHS or care workers, and unskilled workers who come and work in the country on a short-term basis.
He has insisted that the Conservatives will bring down the numbers. Net migration was 258,000 in 2018.
Ashworth has said that under Labour there will always be space in healthcare and social care for workers from the EU. He said the party would accept a higher immigration level if it was good for the economy.
Asked if he was happy for immigration to go up, he said: “If the economy needs it then of course people should come here to work.”
He also highlighted the government’s decision to extend the fee for workers from abroad to use the NHS, even if they are staff members, to workers who migrate to the UK from the EU27 after Brexit.
He said: “We should have a fair and balanced immigration system, of course we should, but he is imposing a tax on nurses coming from the EU and beyond to come and work here in our NHS, to care for our sick and our elderly.
“He’s going to exacerbate the staffing crisis in our NHS with his proposals.”
Ashworth, who backed remain in the EU referendum, said his party would work on a credible alternative Brexit plan before putting it back to the public.
He said: “I think our country’s best interests are served by remain, but I am also aware the country needs to make the final decision, and in the end it’s the British people who will decide.”