Former Tory PM Sir John Major says 'we would not have an NHS without migrants'

Ex-Conservative leader says Britain faces a 'lesser future' if it leaves the EU

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Indy Politics

The former Prime Minister Sir John Major has warned that Britain would not have an NHS without migrants and faces a “lesser future” if it chooses to leave the EU.

Speaking in favour of a new European deal that would ease the “short-term” pressure put on public services by immigration, the ex-Tory leader said the UK would be “materially decreased” if it voted to leave the economic bloc.

Sir John said that while there had been a “huge bulge” in numbers of people coming to the UK, the issue itself was not a “uniquely British problem” and that a solution should be found by working with other European leaders.

He insisted he is not anti-immigration on principle, and said: “We wouldn't have a National Health Service without migrants, we would not have a transport system without migrants.”

But he did call for “some practical things that could be done” to change Britain’s role within the EU that “don’t infringe the principle [of freedom of movement] but do meet the problem”.

Hailing Sir John’s comments on the EU, the shadow Foreign Secretary Douglas Alexander said: “I think it's a tragedy for Britain that we are seeing more effective leadership from an ex-Conservative prime minister than the present Conservative Prime Minister.

He told Sky News: “Of course there is reform and change that can be secured within Europe in relation to immigration and in relation to other issues. I thought John Major made a convincing case that change is possible.”

Mr Alexander acknowledged that the “scale of immigration we have seen in recent years has brought to bear particular pressures on particular communities, that's why we need to see sensible reforms”.

But the Work and Pensions Secretary, Iain Duncan Smith, told BBC Radio 5 Live that while most people would agree with Sir John on “the need for more control over freedom of movement”, he dismissed recent research suggesting EU migrants contributed £20 billion to the UK from 2001 to 2011 as a “silly report”.

David Cameron has promised to put immigration at the heart of his plan to renegotiate the UK's relationship with Brussels before an in/out referendum by the end of 2017 if he remains in Number 10.

And speaking at the G20 summit in Brisbane, the Italian prime minister said Britain leaving the EU would be a “disaster” for everyone involved.

Matteo Renzi told Sky News: “We need a UK able to invest in a different idea of Europe - more supportive in relation with citizens and not with the power of bureaucrats.

“For this reason Europe needs the role of the UK, but I believe also at this moment the UK has a lot of advantage in the presence in Europe.”