Tony Blair received lots of praise for his comments about Brexit during his appearance on BBC Radio 4’s Today programme on Friday.
The former Labour prime minister described the Leave vote as a “catastrophe” and suggested the UK government should be prepared to consider letting the public have another vote on Britain’s EU membership.
Blair told Today: “If it becomes clear that this is either a deal that doesn’t make it worth our while leaving, or a deal that is so serious in its implications that people may decide they don’t want to go, there’s got to be some way, either through parliament, through an election, possibly through a referendum, in which people express their view.”
He also described Remain voters as “insurgents” and urged them to “mobilise” and build an opposition to Britain’s imminent departure from the 28-nation bloc.
But what Blair seems reluctant to acknowledge — or perhaps just doesn’t understand — is that it was a key decision he made as prime minister that contributed to the anti-EU mood which has built up over recent years.
In 2004, eight countries in central and eastern Europe, including Poland and Hungary, joined the EU as part of the bloc’s enlargement project. Long-standing member states were offered the chance to impose “transitional controls” on the free movement of people from these countries, allowing them to temporarily limit access to their labour markets.
Blair’s Labour government turned down this opportunity. Other members, like Germany, did not. For the decade that followed, net migration to the UK from these new member states topped 423,000, blowing the initial estimate of around 130,000 out of the water, as reported in this Newsweek article from March.
European Commission President Jean-Claude Juncker made this point during a session of European Parliament earlier this year.”In 2004, the U.K. did not use the transitional periods that would have allowed it to phase in the right of free movement of the citizens of eight new member states,” he said.
“As a result, over the past decade the U.K. attracted a record number of mobile EU citizens.”
Fast-forward to June 23, 2016, and the most important concern for Brits heading to polling stations to vote in the historic in-out referendum was curbing the number of EU citizens migrating to the UK.The general opinion among Brits heading into the referendum was that EU membership caused unsustainable levels of immigration to the UK, and Blair clearly has to take some blame for this.
Instead, the former prime minister has taken it upon himself to swoop into the Brexit debate, posing as a voice of the 48%. In reality, it was Blair’s misguided approach to handling the challenges of EU immigration which made him an architect of the anti-EU mood which led to the Brexit vote.
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