Blair says UK can control immigration without Brexit
Former Labour prime minister comes under fire from senior Tory minister Fallon
Former British prime minister Tony Blair on the BBC’s “Andrew Marr Show” on Sunday. Photograph: Jeff Overs/BBC Handout via Reuters
Britain can control immigration without leaving the EU, Tony Blair has claimed, immediately drawing fire from a senior cabinet minister.
Mr Blair, the former Labour prime minister, produced a report that said there are ways to end open borders without Brexit.
It suggested that migrants from the EU register on arrival and be counted in and out of the country and have a job offer before they enter Britain. Those who did not could be banned from renting a home, opening a bank account or accessing benefits.
But Michael Fallon, defence secretary, said the public had voted to leave the EU and this was going to happen. “Tony Blair has to get over it,” he told the BBC Andrew Marr Show.
Ken Clarke, the Europhile former Tory chancellor, agreed that Mr Blair’s idea was unrealistic: “It is hopeless to expect that,” he said.
Mr Blair had argued that he understood the anxiety of some voters about immigration and its potential downward impact on wages.
That could be tackled even if Britain stayed inside the EU, he claimed, saying that the French government was already drawing up a directive that could tackle wages being undercut. “Brexit is a distraction, not a solution, to the problems that this country faces.”
The new report by the Tony Blair Institute was written by Harvey Redgrave, a former Number 10 policy expert.
But Mr Blair’s suggestions about how to tackle high immigration provoked consternation yesterday , given that it was the New Labour government that imposed no restrictions on immigration when eight countries from eastern Europe joined the EU in 2004.
Mr Fallon described those new ideas as “a bit late” given the Out vote last summer. “It’s a pity he didn’t think of that when all these countries were admitted to the EU on his watch,” the said said. “Tony Blair has to accept restrictions on freedom of movement now we are leaving the EU.”
Mr Blair also said he thought Brexit would only work if Britain became a Singapore-style, low-tax, low-regulation economy, but that he feared voters would reject such a big change.
“I think the only circumstances in which Brexit works, and this is the fantasy of the real Brexiters – they are in one sense right, that if you leave Europe, Britain should become a light-touch, light-regulation . . . it should become marketed as ‘not Europe’.
“The risk is the British people won’t vote for that, they are not going to vote for the huge economic and social restructuring – to the changes to the health service and other things that would require.”
He said such an outcome risked ushering in the “unreconstructed leftist” programme put forward by Labour under Jeremy Corbyn. He added that a Brexit that was followed by Mr Corbyn would leave the UK in “a very serious situation”.
This evening the British government faces a big parliamentary test when the House of Commons votes on the EU withdrawal bill, which gives ministers the power to transpose EU law on to the British statute book.
Another key vote will come tomorrow night when the government tries to force through a plan to give itself a majority on all public bill committees. Mr Fallon dismissed the idea that this was undemocratic, saying the minority Labour government had done the same thing in the 1970s.
Lord Adonis, a former Labour transport secretary, echoed Mr Blair’s line yesterday when he said he hoped a majority of peers would support an amendment to the EU withdrawal bill requiring another referendum before Brexit takes effect.
He claimed that it was possible for the French and German governments to make an offer to the UK to stay in the economic institutions while keeping national control over immigration.
Meanwhile, former US president Barack Obama rang Conservative headquarters on election night with a mistaken but reassuring message for Theresa May because Labour insiders had told him the party was expecting to lose seats, according to a new book about the election. Shortly before the exit poll, which sent shockwaves through both party headquarters, Mr Obama contacted a friend in Tory central office with the “news” that Labour was expecting to see the Conservatives increase their majority. The revelation is contained in extracts from a new book, Betting the House, by journalists Tom McTague and Tim Ross.
– (Copyright The Financial Times Limited 2017, Guardian Services)