Tony Blair calls for tougher immigration rules for EU migrants

Posted On: 
10th September 2017

Tony Blair has called for a tougher approach to EU migration, saying the concerns that led to the Brexit vote "cannot be ignored". 

Tony Blair addressing a conference on Brexit in Ireland earlier this year
Credit: 
PA

The former prime minister, whose government did not apply transitional controls on eastern European migrants, said that "times were different" now and "intelligent politics" demanded a response. 

A new report from his Institute for Global Change thinktank suggests the UK can counter people's concerns about EU migration through better enforcement of existing rules.

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Mr Blair describes his approach as "the space between Brexit at any cost and simple reversal of the referendum decision", addressing voters' concerns without inflicting economic damage on the country.

The paper calls for a registration system for new arrivals to make sure they are coming here to work or study, with migrants required to have a job offer before they get to the UK. 

Under the proposals, those who did not get a job offer would not be allowed to rent property, open a British bank account or claim any benefits. 

In an article for the Sunday Times, Mr Blair argues that advocating a tougher migration system can help opponents of a 'hard Brexit' deal with the concerns that led to the referendum result. 

He admits that such an approach will lead to claims of betraying the decision made by the British people last June.

"There can be no change to Brexit unless we confront the underlying causes of it. This will involve uncomfortable choices for those opposed to Brexit. But what is at stake is the future of our country. And that imposes a supreme political obligation.

"If you genuinely believe Brexit is the right course, then do it. But if you don’t, then at least try a different way, dealing with the anxieties behind Brexit with solutions that work; and steer the country away from the immense damage a hard Brexit — and frankly there is no other on offer — will do.

"Can this strategy succeed? It’s unclear. The attack on it will be bitter and the charge of fostering disillusion will be fierce.

"But if those of us warning about the consequence of Brexit turn out to be right, and it makes us poorer and weaker, the disillusion at a later point will be much more intense and the choices then much more ugly."

MACRON/MERKEL OFFER

Mr Blair's argument is echoed by former minister Lord Adonis, who says Brexit could still be reversed if the French and German governments offer the UK the chance to control immigration while remaining an EU member.

Writing in the Observer, the Labour peer says the House of Lords could support an amendment to the EU Withdrawal Bill calling for a second referendum - a move he claims would push President Macron and Chancellor Merkel to make a stronger offer on immigration.

“The interplay between a referendum and such a Merkel-Macron ‘offer’ will be vital if it is clear by next summer that Britain is going to hold a referendum, then the incentive for them to make a bold offer greatly increases," he writes.

“A lot depends upon whether the alternative is the status quo – or EU membership without freedom of movement in respect of right to work and right to reside for all EU nationals.

"If Chancellor Merkel and President Macron make an offer, probably over the heads of the British government, for the UK to stay in the economic institutions of the EU but with national control over immigration, then I believe the referendum can be won."