'Nervous' UK PM Johnson promises lower immigration if he wins election

British Prime Minister Boris Johnson has promised a points-based approach to controlling immigration. PHOTO: AFP

LONDON (REUTERS) - British Prime Minister Boris Johnson said he was nervous about his narrowing lead in opinion polls ahead of an election this week but pledged to deliver a "transformative" Brexit on Jan 31 that would allow lower immigration.

Britain votes on Thursday (Dec 12) in an election which will decide the fate of Brexit and the world's fifth-largest economy with a stark choice between Mr Johnson's pro-market Conservatives and the socialist-led opposition Labour Party.

"Brexit is the most radical and profound change to the management of this country," Mr Johnson told Sky, adding that he would lead the United Kingdom out of the European Union on Jan 31 if he won a majority in the 650-seat Parliament.

"Brexit is indispensable - you can't move forward without Brexit," said Mr Johnson, the face of the "out" campaign in the 2016 referendum who won the top job in July after prime minister Theresa May failed to deliver Brexit on time.

Voting begins at 0700 GMT (3pm Singapore time) on Thursday and polls close at 2200 GMT, when an exit poll will give the first indication of who has won. Mr Johnson will likely need more than 320 seats to ensure he can stay prime minister and ratify the Brexit deal he struck in October.

Opinion polls, which largely failed to predict the 2016 referendum result or Mrs May's loss of her majority in the 2017 snap election, show Mr Johnson leads Labour Party leader Jeremy Corbyn, though the lead has narrowed in recent weeks.

Asked if he was nervous about narrowing polls, Mr Johnson said:"Of course, we are fighting for every vote. I think that this is a critical moment for this country."

Four opinion polls published on Saturday put the lead of his Conservative Party over the Labour Party at between eight and 15 points.

No major poll shows Mr Corbyn, a committed socialist who wants to bring swathes of the British economy into state ownership and raise taxes on the financiers of London, will win.

But Labour could still lead a minority government if it deprives Mr Johnson of a majority, as few other parties are willing to prop up a Johnson government. Labour proposes negotiating a new deal and then holding another EU referendum.

Mr Johnson dodged a question on if he would resign if he failed to win a majority, and dismissed questions suggesting that after nearly a decade of Conservative-led rule, he was offering little to voters beyond Brexit.

"Trust in politics has been undermined," he said. "It's been undermined by people who for three and a half years... promised to deliver Brexit and then didn't."

Echoing the Leave campaign pledges of the 2016 referendum, Mr Johnson promised lower immigration with a points-based Australian-style system.

"Numbers will come down because we'll be able to control the system in that way," he said.

He said his focus would be cutting down on unskilled migration, but that there would be scope for high-skilled and other workers to come to Britain.

"I'm not hostile to immigration... I'm a believer in allowing people to come to this country and I think if they have talents and they want to do things and make their lives in the UK and they can contribute to our country - fantastic."

When asked by Sky what the naughtiest thing he was ready to admit to was, Johnson initially asked advisers for suggestions before saying: "I think, I, you know, I may sometimes, when I was riding a bicycle every day, which I used to do, I may sometimes have not always have obeyed the law about cycling on the pavement."

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