The Scottish Parliament could get new powers over immigration if the UK leaves the European Union, according to UK Justice Secretary Michael Gove.

The co-convener of the Vote Leave campaign told BBC Scotland's Good Morning Scotland programme "it would be for Scotland to decide" how many immigrants it admits to the country in the event of Brexit.

But Scottish First Minister Nicola Sturgeon, who has argued for Holyrood to control immigration, described Mr Gove's comments as "a fib and a half" on Twitter.

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When asked how many people would be allowed to come to Scotland if the UK leaves the EU, Mr Gove said: "It would be for Scotland to decide.

"Because, under any proposals we put forward we believe that a points-based immigration policy, similar to the one that was actually put forward as a model for an independent Scotland by Nicola Sturgeon, would be the right approach."

He acknowledged that the Home Office currently sets immigration policy for the whole of the UK, but said "one of the advantages of moving outside the EU is that we would be able, as a United Kingdom, to have control over immigration policy".


He added: "Holyrood would be strengthened if we left the EU.

"The Scottish Parliament would have new powers over fishing, agriculture, over some social areas and potentially over immigration."

Mr Gove said he would not mind being dismissed from the Cabinet if the UK votes to Remain in the EU against his wishes.

"I don't mind if my Cabinet career is over," he said.

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"I think the most important thing is to make a principled case for Britain leaving the EU."

He cited the "unfortunate situation" of the Brain family, who are facing deportation to Australia after five years living in Dingwall, in the Highlands.

The family say they are being deported because the post-study work visa scheme that brought them to Scotland was retrospectively cancelled by the Home Office.


But Mr Gove said they are being deported "because of the way in which the law operates as a result of our membership of the EU".

He said: "They came here, they settled down, brought skills and talent to this country. If we leave the EU then we can change the approach that we take to migration."

He added: "At the moment, if you are an Austrian you can come here and there is no control over the number of people who can come from any EU country but if you are an Australian there is a limit."

He continued: "Ultimately, the numbers who would come (to Scotland) in the future would be decided by the Westminster parliament and the Holyrood parliament working together.

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"Because only by leaving the EU can we assert control over numbers, and only by leaving the EU could we then have a discussion between Holyrood and Westminster about how you can have an immigration policy that works both in the interests of Scotland and in the interests of the rest of the UK."

He said there is "no mandate and no support for a second referendum on Scotland's position in the UK".

He dismissed the nationalist argument that leaving the EU would contradict the unionist claim that a vote to remain in the UK was a vote to remain in the EU.

"If you vote as a unit, if you vote as a United Kingdom, Scotland having voted to remain the United Kingdom, then this vote is conducted on a United Kingdom basis," he said.

"We're not voting as Scotland and England, we're voting as individuals over what should happen to our United Kingdom.

"And I don't believe that the people of Scotland want the question over whether or not we're part of the UK to be reopened 18 months after it was settled so decisively."

Former Scottish first minister Alex Salmond, the SNP's foreign affairs spokesman at Westminster, said: "The Brain family are not suffering from any impositions of the European Union. They are suffering at the hands of Gove's Tory Government.

"Scotland had some discretion on immigration policy to attract young families to the Highlands but that was removed by Gove and his Tory colleagues.

"Even now, all the Home Secretary has to do is to allow the Brains to stay and keep the commitment made to this young family - there is no European restriction whatsoever on her ability to do that.

"So here is a direct challenge to Gove: as current Justice Secretary he has not hitherto lifted a finger to help this family he now claims to be concerned about.

"He now claims to want Scotland to decide immigration and the overwhelming majority of MPs and MSPs back the Brains. So let him today make a public statement urging his Tory colleague, the Home Secretary, to let the Brains work while they apply for the right to remain permanently in Scotland.

"The truth is of course is that the Brexiteers will say anything at this stage in the campaign. They run about England telling people they are going to slash immigration and now Gove comes to Scotland to tell us we will be able to attract more people.

"The Lord Chancellor is talking nonsense on ermine-clad stilts - what is standing in the way of Scotland having the immigration powers we need isn't the EU, it's the UK Government."

Scottish Liberal Democrat leader Willie Rennie said: "Michael Gove is trying to convince us that he is open to more immigration when in reality he favours the harshest anti-migrant policy you can possibly imagine.

"The truth is that a vote to leave the EU would put our immigration policy in the hands of a Tory Party in thrall to Nigel Farage.

"If Michael Gove seriously expects us to believe that this would result in Scotland getting greater control over immigration then he is delusional."