28 December 2012

Tony Blair defends record on UK immigration

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Former Prime Minister Tony Blair has defended his government's stance on UK immigration, claiming it had been 'good for Britain'.

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Mr Blair said he had no regrets over his record on UK immigration during his time as prime minister.

Mr Blair, who was prime minister from 1997 to 2007, oversaw several European countries such as Poland, Latvia and Lithuania accede to the EU. Despite some concerns of the effect on UK immigration, the then-Labour government did little to control the influx, predicting less than 12,000 a year would move to the UK.

Yet the Labour Party's predictions proved to be wildly inaccurate, with net migration levels to the UK reaching levels of over 250,000 by the time the current coalition Government came to power.

The current, Conservative-led coalition has made reducing net migration back to the 'tens of thousands' a priority and high levels of UK immigration have become controversial issues in the wake of the UK's economic problems.

However, Mr Blair, speaking in a rare appearance in Westminster, said that while immigration is an issue which needs to be dealt with, he had no regrets about not introducing limits on immigration following the expansion of the EU.

"The fact is immigrants have contributed a lot to our country," said the former prime minister.

"There are real issues, we should deal with those issues, but in the end I think the politics that says the problem that Britain has is to do with immigration, I personally think it is not correct."

Mr Blair said immigration was an issue for 'every major country' and that current Labour Leader Ed Miliband was 'absolutely correct' to address the issue.

Mr Miliband has previously said that Mr Blair and his successor Gordon Brown's governments made mistakes on immigration and has promised a tougher stance should the Labour Party secure re-election.

The immigration debate has seen the UK Independence Party (UKIP) surpass the Liberal Democrats as Britain's third largest political party. However, Mr Blair argues that UKIP - who advocate Britain leaving the UK - are a party 'built on scapegoating' and Britain should remain a European leader.

"The UKIP phenomenon will garner a lot of protest votes," said Mr Blair. "But they are a party built on scapegoating, not solutions.

"I don't think our problem is Europe, or foreigners. I would be very hesitant about trading policy with UKIP, because I think frankly when you analyse what they've got to offer it's a cul-de-sac.

"I think talk of leaving [the EU] is dangerous, and immensely damaging to Britain's long-term interests.

"I think the UK has an opportunity to play a part in shaping the new Europe and we should seize it, and we should neither have an empty chair, nor empty gestures.

"I remain absolutely emphatically in favour of this country playing its full part in shaping the Europe of the future."

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