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13 September 2017

Tony Blair: We don't have to leave the EU to control immigration

This Tony Blair Institute for Global Change paper suggests ways in which the UK could limit or control freedom of movement without abandoning the basic principle.

[...]It should be seen in contrast to the recent Home Office paper which if implemented would do significant economic damage to our country, deterring both the high skilled and low skilled workers we need.

It then goes on to place European immigration within the wider context of immigration as a whole and sets the scene for the next paper which will examine what a controlled immigration policy should look like.

The idea is to garner support for an immigration policy which reasserts control, allows us to reduce immigration sensibly and fairly, stops immigration undercutting wages and services; whilst making a virtue of immigration which is necessary and productive, and avoiding picking an arbitrary number and making it a Government policy.

The irony of the present situation is by focusing on European immigration, we are targeting the one group of migrants who clearly contribute more than they take.

There are particular issues over European immigration.

They may not be the only immigration concern or even the main one; but they can't be ignored. The paper shows, however, how they can be largely assuaged by measures within our own law or by negotiation with Europe.

The paper demonstrates clearly that most of those who come to Britain from other European countries, either have skilled jobs to go to; or are working in industries, where there is a shortage of British workers; or are studying; or are legitimate dependents.

Of those who come looking for work, we can estimate most find jobs in sectors like hospitality in the South of England.

The reality is that, after Brexit, we will need to encourage most of these categories to keep coming; otherwise we will do ourselves serious economic damage.

For this therefore to be a principal factor in the biggest decision Britain will take since World War 2 is irrational.

As the paper shows, we can curtail the things that people feel are damaging about European immigration, both by domestic policy change and by agreeing change within Europe to the freedom of movement principle, including supporting the campaign of President Macron on the Posted Workers Directive.

This is precisely the territory Labour Party should camp upon.

The Party’s recent shift to supporting a transition within the Single Market and Customs Union is greatly to be welcomed.

But it needs to be a step to a bigger one: keep freedom of movement but reform it; support the Single Market as a matter of principle together with its social protections; control overall immigration in ways which meet public anxiety but are true to our values; and then explain why Brexit is a distraction from the Tory failures, not a solution to them.

There is a progressive case for the Single Market and Enlargement. [...]

So yes Britain pays net into Europe around £8bn a year as does France, Germany paying more; but bear in mind Britain’s annual trade with Poland alone has risen from just under £4bn in 2004 to over £13bn today.

Therefore imagine the feeling in Europe today when Britain wants to leave Europe on the basis of opposition to the rules of the Single Market; and because of the bill for enlargement.

This is the extraordinary position in which we have placed ourselves as a country.

If we go ahead with Brexit, we will have taken the unprecedented decision for a major country to relegate ourselves, like a top six Premiership side deciding to play exclusively in the Championship.

Other than President Trump, I can't think of a single leader of any of our major allies or partners who thinks this decision is anything other than self harming.

Labour should have confidence in making the case against this.

The Tory dilemma is different.

Many in Government know all this. But they feel they're irrevocably bound by the referendum and hemmed in by Party division. So, they want to negotiate an exit from the Single Market with then a re-negotiation which restores its benefits. Or, as some Ministers have apparently said behind closed doors, we want to ‘leave without leaving’.

I understand this as a matter of politics.

But I fear they're trying to negotiate the unnegotiable; and placate the un-placateable.

The Brexit coalition comprised two groups which came together in support of leaving, but which really profoundly disagree with each other.

The intellectual force behind Brexit are the right wing ultra Thatcherites, who believe that out of Europe, Britain can be a free market, freewheeling hub, positioning itself in stark relief to bureaucratic old continental Europe.

They pretend concern over immigration. Really they support a stronger form of globalisation. [...]

Full blog post

Full paper

© Tony Blair Institute for Global Change

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