Mr Blair was honoured for his part in helping Poland accede to the European Union in 2004.
30 January 2013
Tony Blair honour riles anti-UK immigration advocates
Former Prime Minister Tony Blair has been honoured in Poland for his part in ensuring the country acceded to the EU in 2004. As Poland's accession triggered high rates of UK immigration, his award has angered many advocates of reducing immigration levels.
British Ambassador to Poland Robert Barnett accepted the 'Special Prize' on Mr Blair's behalf from an association of Polish business leaders in Warsaw this week. Mr Blair advocated for Poland's accession to the EU during his time as prime minister.
However, as Poland's accession gave its citizens access to the EU's freedom of movement directive, this allowed thousands of Polish - as well as Lithuanian and Latvian - citizens to move to the UK without the need for a UK visa. At the time Mr Blair's Labour government predicted approximately 13,000 people a year would come yet this figure quickly rose to over 250,000.
The current Conservative-led coalition has since introduced changes to begin reducing UK immigration rates but Mr Blair is still vilified by some for his part in allowing so many migrants to come unchecked.
"This award is entirely inappropriate," said Conservative MP Philip Hollobone.
"Tony Blair presided over the biggest wave of immigration this country has seen since the Norman Conquest, 2.5 million net migrants came into the UK while he was in charge and Britain will never be the same again."
Mr Blair for his part accepted the award graciously, praising the country's contribution to the European community in a pre-recorded message screened at the award ceremony.
"I admire the Polish people greatly. I'd like to thank you for the contribution you've made to the European Union since you joined, and to my country, to Britain, both at the workplace and in society," said Mr Blair.
"This is a difficult economic time and I know the Business Centre Club of Poland do fantastic work. So to be given this award for the contribution I have made, in my way, to relations between Britain and Poland, between British people and Polish people is an especial honour."
Marissa Murdock, casework manager at the UK Visa Bureau, says the former prime minister has his share of critics but should not face criticism for his contribution to Poland joining the EU.
"Critics of this award have gone so far as to claim Tony Blair 'opened the door' to Polish migrants, Poland becoming a member of the EU meant they were given access to the Freedom of Movement directive regardless of Mr Blair's actions," said Ms Murdock.
"Poland has always been a close ally of the UK - the UK's defence of the country led to the beginning of the Second World War after all."
The UK Visa Bureau is an independent immigration consultancy specialising in helping people prepare for their UK Ancestry Visa application.