September 14, 2017 by Paul Goldsmith
The ad hominem attacks were quick in coming, but the political and economic arguments were much slower to arrive. Former Prime Minister Tony Blair’s Institute for Global Change published a report explaining the many measures Theresa May could have taken as Home Secretary and could now take as Prime Minister to control immigration within the European Union. Essentially, the report points out that May has not enforced existing rules during her time in power and she should take the option now.
There are a variety of people who refuse to listen to what Blair says because he’s Tony Blair. These are the people on the left of the Labour Party who view him as the anti-Christ because he won three general elections with a centrist programme and took the country into the Iraq War. Nothing will change those things, but it our be useful if they listened to his arguments here.
The Conservatives’ Michael Fallon asked why Tony Blair didn’t enforce those rules from 2004 when he allowed the UK’s doors to open with no controls to Eastern European immigrants. Blair’s answer is simple. At the time Britain was in the midst of a long boom of economic growth and prosperity. NHS waiting lists were low, school achievement was rising, and so immigration was able to fill job vacancies and didn’t affect peoples’ lives as much as they do now. After the financial crisis, followed by years of austerity, the British people were sold the argument that controls on immigration would solve their problems, and for that to happen we would have to leave the EU. Blair points out thought that immigration can be controlled from within the EU and his institute has reviewed ECJ rules and found what is possible.:
● Force EU migrants to register on arrival in the UK so there can be proper checks on whether they then go to work or study, as countries such as Belgium already demand
● Insist that migrants show evidence of a job offer before they enter Britain, with employers required to provide confirmation
● Ban EU nationals without permission to reside from renting, opening a bank account or accessing welfare benefits
● Impose “discriminatory” rules restricting migrants’ access to free healthcare if they are economically inactive
● Let universities charge EU nationals higher tuition fees than British students
“Brexit is a distraction, not a solution, to the problems that Britain faces,” Blair also notes, before going onto express frustration as the current Labour policy of opposing the way we are leaving the EU without actually opposing leaving the EU. “We can curtail the things that people feel are damaging about European immigration, both by domestic policy change and by agreeing change within Europe. This is precisely the territory the Labour Party should camp upon.”
Blair’s central point is that politicians have to take account of voters’ grievances, but the ones about immigration may be able to be addressed without what he considers to be the massive economic price of Brexit. His paper attempts to do that, and he even gives advice to those who want to reverse the Brexit result through a second referendum: “There is no diversion possible from Brexit without addressing the grievances which gave rise to it. Paradoxically, we have to respect the referendum vote to change it.”
There are many critics of Tony Blair. But it is now time to welcome his carefully thought through, informative and knowledgeable contributions to a debate that this country needs to have as the consequences of Brexit become clearer. I wonder if people can put aside the past and do that?