Michael Gove has rejected the suggestion Brexit was motivated by “darker feelings” towards migrants.
The environment secretary, who was instrumental in the ‘Leave’ campaign, claimed the UK had the “most liberal attitude” towards non-EU immigration in the world.
Speaking on BBC Radio 4′s Today programme on Thursday morning, Gove also denied the claim some ministers believed the government’s approach to illegal immigration was similar to that of Nazi Germany.
Gove said he had “never heard anyone” make the comparison.
Lord Kerslake, the former head of the civil service, last night said some ministers in the coalition government had believed the approach of then home secretary Theresa May was comparable to how Hitler behaved.
In 2012, May said she wanted to create a “hostile environment” for illegal immigrants.
Kerslake told BBC Newsnight: “There were some, I shall not name them, saying it was reminiscent of Nazi Germany.”
It is not clear whether either Conservative or Liberal Democrat ministers - or both - raised the alarm.
Speaking to BBC Radio 4′s Today programme on Thursday morning, Gove said: “I have never heard anyone make that comparison before Lord Kerslake did.
“It is not for me to criticise a distinguished former public servant like Lord Kerslake, but I respectfully disagree.”
Gove said Britain had a “positive, welcoming, liberal forward-looking” approach to immigration after Brexit.
“Britain has the most liberal attitude towards migration of any European country. And that followed the Brexit vote,” he said.
“The characterisation of it as somehow having led to worse communal relations or a more hostile attitude to migration – that just isn’t borne out by the facts,” he said.
“The British people have a robust and pragmatic and liberal approach. They want to welcome people here who want to work.”
He added: “In aftermath of the Brexit vote there were all sorts of people who said it was motivated by darker feelings.
“The truth is the Brexit vote allowed British people to say ‘look, we have taken back control, we can now determine what migration policy is in our interests and we can combine both what’s in our economic interests with proper humanity’.”
It comes after May was accused of misleading Parliament over the Windrush immigration scandal after she suggested Labour had destroyed migrants’ identity documents.
The prime minister has been under intense pressure over reports thousands who answered the post-World War II call to come to the UK to work in essential services are wrongly being denied access to state healthcare, losing their jobs and even being threatened with deportation.