Tony Blair – Britain can limit immigration without leaving the EU
Former Prime Minister Tony Blair has been trying to find a way to reduce immigration to the UK without leaving the European Union. The Institute for Global Change, the organisation that Blair set up earlier this year, has published a report on this very topic. Outlining his proposals to Andrew Marr, Blair also called on sympathetic MPs to unite against Brexit in order to prevent ‘economic and political damage’:
AM: A lot of people already this morning have said ‘It’s a little bit rich coming from you given how you opened the doors back in the 2000s to mass immigration and changed lots of communities.
TB: We shouldn’t exaggerate this… In 2004, we could have imposed transitional arrangements on those accession countries, the 8 countries… But the real point is, the situation back then was different… 2017, post financial crisis, post austerity – no you’ve got to listen to what people are saying and react to it.
AM: But we did have hundreds of thousands of people coming in to this country after that decision quite quickly. And lots of communities up and down the country… were changed very very fast, and people didn’t understand that… Do you accept that among all the reasons for the Brexit vote, that was part of it?
TB: I accept that EU migration including from those accession countries was obviously a factor. I do think it probably isn’t the biggest concern on immigration. But here’s what I’m saying now… the circumstances are completely different and we’ve had the Brexit vote. If, for example, the anxiety is downward pressure on wages as a result of an influx of EU migrants… we have it within our power to deal with that by domestic legislation.. There is a directive being supported by the French President which would specifically bar the undercutting of wages and local bargaining from EU migration so if we want to deal with those questions, we can deal with them without the sledgehammer that through Brexit destroys the migration that we actually need… and it doesn’t deal with the other parts of the migration issue, which I think are the greater concern.
AM: But nonetheless, the British people voted to take back control of their borders, so any change in internal EU migration would have to be quite a dramatic one. Can you see any sign whatever that any of the leaders of the EU, or the national leaders are prepared to revisit what is one of the four pillars of the EU?
TB: I think there are signs… I think you could go back and argue for an emergency brake that didn’t just deal with benefits but also the influx of people…
AM: We tried to do this in 2016 with David Cameron and failed.
Blair asked of his fellow interviewee Michael Fallon: ‘Does he really think [Brexit] a smart thing to do? No he doesn’t but he feels he has to.’ Blair also endeavoured to keep alive the dream of a new centre left party in British politics, remarking ‘There is a huge amount of political energy out there in the country searching for a home.’
Michael Fallon – UK ‘not late’ in responding to Hurricane Irma
The devastating Hurricane Irma has turned the world’s eyes towards the Caribbean this week. Several British Overseas Territories lay directly in the path of the storm, with Anguilla and the British Virgin Islands particularly badly hit. Andrew Marr spoke to the Defence Secretary Michael Fallon about the British response to alleviate the hurricane’s impact, which has been criticised as being too slow when compared with that of France and the Netherlands:
AM: We’ve seen images of British troops arriving. Why were we so late?
MF: First of all, we weren’t late. We prepositioned a ship in the Caribbean for the hurricane season. It wasn’t by chance that Mounts Bay, a huge 16,000-tonne aid ship with marines with a helicopter with pallets of aid was already in the Caribbean. She’s already been helping Anguilla. She’s already moved on to help the British Virgin Islands. Now it wasn’t until Thursday when we were clear about where most help was needed and when we were clear about which airfields were usable – then we started the airlift. Three flights went in on Friday, two went in yesterday, three more are going in today. We’re putting in troops, we’re putting in additional helicopters and pallets of aid backed up by police, medics and engineers.
AM: We saw those pictures on the news of landing craft arriving on white beaches which were said to be Anguilla, but somebody from Anguilla, Dot Hodges, said that nobody has actually landed. have we landed in Anguilla?
MF: Absolutely. Mounts Bay was on Anguilla first and has restored power on Anguilla and has helped deal with the fuel situation there as well. Mounts Bay was then able to move on to the British Virgin Islands and started to provide assistance there. There are troops on the British Virgin Islands today, 120 troops are already there. Our task force is established under a Brigadier. There are 500 British troops in the region now.
On the topic of North Korea, which loomed large over the summer, Fallon added: ‘We’re working flat out at the United Nations to get a better resolution there to enforce the existing sanctions, we’re looking at sanctions across the EU and trying to persuade China to keep its neighbour in check’. He also claimed that Russia’s latest Zapad military exercise ‘is designed to provoke us, to test our defences and that is why we have to be strong’.
Dominic Raab – We didn’t have 17 million racists voting for Brexit
Justice Minister Dominic Raab spoke to Sky’s Niall Paterson about the government’s Brexit strategy. Paterson asked him specifically about the government’s approach to immigration, after a report planning a tough line on freedom of movement leaked earlier this week. Raab took the opportunity to defend Brexit voters’ concerns on the issue:
NP: In terms of the immigration plan that was leaked this week, if you’re going to get to that target of tens of thousands, you’re going to annoy a huge number of people in a variety of industries across the country. That, at least, is fair.
DR: No, what we’re going to do is give effect to the referendum and also, I think the widespread public opinion that thinks ‘We’re not racist’ – we didn’t have 17 million racist people voting for Brexit – but want some command and some control over the immigration system and we can do that in a sensible way that gives the best advantages for the economy and businesses, but also exerts control over the overall numbers, make sure that people who come here are self sufficient, and let’s face it, particularly at a time of heightened security concern, we’ve got proper checks around the border. I think that’s a sensible plan, and of course the detail of it is being worked up and I’m not going to comment on leaked reports in newspapers.
NP: OK, so we don’t know what the divorce bill is going to be, we don’t know what’s going to happen with immigration. I mean, it’s little wonder that the EU negotiating team are starting to lose their rag with us.
DR: Well, there’s been all sorts of personal jibes and suggestions that the British people for voting for Brexit were stupid and needed to be taught a lesson. I’m not going to engage in any of that. I think it’s unprofessional. We want to be good friends with our European partners at the end of this, and that’s what we’re aiming for.
Raab went on to attack Labour’s position on Brexit, claiming that ‘they toured up and down the country saying they were going to back Brexit and now they are voting against this whole bill. That is a fraud. It is Jeremy Corbyn’s biggest con trick on Labour voters, and the public at large, yet.’
Ken Clarke – The Tories ‘tend to have a leadership crisis’ when ‘puzzled by policies’
Also speaking to Niall Paterson, Father of the House Kenneth Clarke opined that when the Conservative Party can’t think of anything else to do, it throws itself into a leadership crisis. Rejecting the notion of Prime Minister Jacob Rees-Mogg, Clarke told Paterson that despite the speculation, there was no realistic prospect of Theresa May being replaced by ‘anybody sensible’ in the next two or three years:
NP: These days, we’re never far away from comments about the Conservative leadership. Jacob Rees-Mogg perhaps damaged his chances this week with some choice words on abortion. Given the party’s direction on the European Union, given the words of Mr Rees-Mogg, I just wonder – would a young Ken Clarke have naturally gravitated towards the Conservative party?
KC: I joined the modernisers in the Conservative Party at a time when we were campaigning for Britain to join the European Union. There’s an irony about my career. In my first Parliament Britain joined the European Community. It’s benefitted I think for the 40 odd years I’ve been in politics. In my last Parliament, we’re deciding to leave it for a lot of silly populist reasons.
As you say, everybody turns to the leadership. When the Conservative party can’t think of anything else to do, it tends to have a leadership crisis when it’s rather puzzled by policies. The reason is… they’re complicated. They’re quite difficult. They concern investors and trade unions and businessmen more than the ordinary member of the public. The Eurosceptic campaigners offered simplicity… leave the EU, one bound we’re free and a brave new world will emerge. That is nonsense and it’s no good diverting ourselves by saying ‘Would Jacob Rees-Mogg be a 21st Century Prime Minister?’ which I suspect Jacob thinks is rather a silly question, certainly at this stage of his career… Theresa May is there. There’s no prospect of her being replaced by anybody sensible in any sensible process. For the next two or three years, Theresa’s got the job of presiding over a smooth transition through a long transition period to an arrangement that at least will minimise the damage in a few years time.’
Clarke also shot down Tony Blair’s attempts to cling on to EU membership, stating that ‘Blair still thinks we can stay in the EU, I think the mood in the country [means] it’s hopeless to expect that’.
Subscribe to The Spectator today for a quality of argument not found in any other publication. Get more Spectator for less – just £12 for 12 issues.