NICOLA Sturgeon and Alex Salmond have clashed angrily with Michael Gove after the leading Leave campaigner claimed Holyrood would gain new powers over immigration if Britain left the EU.

Mr Gove, who co-chairs the official Vote Leave campaign, said it “would be for Scotland to decide” how many immigrants came to the country if the UK backed Brexit in next week’s poll.

The First Minister described his comments as “a fib and a half” on Twitter, while Mr Salmond said he was “talking nonsense on ermine clad stilts”.

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Willie Rennie, the Scottish Liberal Democrats leader, said it was “delusional” to believe Holyrood would gain immigration powers post-Brexit.

Mr Gove, the Lord Chancellor and Justice Secretary in David Cameron’s Cabinet, made the comments in a Radio Scotland interview.

He said leaving the EU would allow the UK to establish an Australian-style points-based immigration scheme, giving preference to people with skills needed in the economy.


He said: “Ultimately, the numbers who would come [to Scotland] in the future would be decided by the Westminster parliament and the Holyrood parliament working together.

“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.”

Mr Gove raised the case of the Brain family, who are facing deportation to Australia after five years living in Dingwall, in the Highlands.

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Kathryn and Gregg Brain moved to Scotland from Australia in June 2011 with their son Lachlan on Kathryn’s student visa.

They planned to stay in the country on a post-study work visa.

But the scheme was scrapped in 2012 and the family’s plight has highlighted the lack of flexibility in the immigration system.

The UK Government has resisted cross-party calls from Holyrood to re-introduce the scheme.


Mr Gove said they faced deportation “because of the way in which the law operates as a result of our membership of the EU”.

But Mr Salmond, the SNP’s foreign affairs spokesman, 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.”

He added: “The truth is of course is that the Brexiteers will say anything at this stage in the campaign.

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“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.”

Willie Rennie, leader of the Scottish Liberal Democrats, also dismissed Mr Gove’s claims.

He said voting to leave the EU would put immigration policy “in the hands of a Tory party in thrall to Nigel Farage” and cut the number of people allowed to settle in the UK.

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

“Michael Gove must think that people’s heads zip up at the back.”

Tom Harris, director of Scottish Vote Leave, defended Mr Gove’s comments, saying Brexit would create “a whole new ball game” for immigration policy.

At the weekend, he wrote to Ms Sturgeon acknowledging that “Scotland needs skilled migrants” and urging her to demand new immigration powers for Holyrood in the event of a Leave vote.