Britain would extend an Australian-style points-based immigration system to European Union citizens if it votes to leave the bloc, the “Out” campaign said on Wednesday, ratcheting up the pressure on a key issue ahead of the June 23 referendum.
Two polls on Tuesday showed Britons have moved towards voting to leave the bloc after official figures published last week put net migration at the second highest level on record last year.
A YouGov poll published on Wednesday put both sides level on 41 percent, unchanged from its previous survey.
Senior members of the Out campaign including former London Mayor Boris Johnson and Justice Secretary Michael Gove said immigration post-Brexit would be based on job and language skills.
“Migration brings many benefits to Britain – culturally, socially and economically,” they said in a joint statement. “We want Britain to continue to benefit from migration. But if we are to welcome more people to Britain then the public must be reassured that we have control over who comes here.
“Our membership of the EU means we don’t have control.”
Prime Minister David Cameron, who supports an “In” vote, has come under fire during the campaign for failing to deliver a promise to keep net migration to the “tens of thousands”.
The figures released last week put net migration at 330,000 in 2015. Of those, a net 184,000 came from the EU, which mandates freedom of movement.
Britons’ choice on whether to remain in the 28-member EU has far-reaching consequences for many aspects of British life and beyond. Immigration is one of the key battlegrounds in what is becoming an increasingly bitter debate.
Supporters of EU membership have complained the Out campaign has failed to offer any concrete proposals as to what life would look like if Britain left the bloc.
Setting out its plans, the Out campaign said there would be no change for Irish citizens, who can live and work in Britain, while those EU citizens already lawfully resident in Britain could remain and be granted indefinite leave.
But by the next national election in 2020, the Out campaign said it would have extended a points-based system where EU citizens would be treated like any other and admitted on the basis of their suitability for a job.
“To gain the right to work, economic migrants will have to be suitable for the job in question,” they said. “For relevant jobs, we will be able to ensure that all those who come have the ability to speak good English.”
The In campaign said in response that any move to take Britain out of the EU single market would damage the economy.
“Australia, who have a points-based immigration system, have twice as many migrants per head as the UK,” said Will Straw of Britain Stronger In Europe.
“Economic experts are agreed that leaving the Single Market would lead to recession – costing jobs and raising prices.”