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Analysis

Blair’s right: Brexit isn’t best way to control migration

by Luke Lythgoe | 01.03.2018

Implementing existing migration rules properly and pushing for EU reform would tighten controls without trashing the UK in a destructive Brexit. That is the message from Tony Blair today, in the second high-profile intervention by a former prime minister this week.

EU citizens help staff our hospitals, keep our economy humming, and pay more in taxes than they take out in welfare. Brexit has seen these people leaving in droves. Meanwhile, problems people care about most – the NHS, jobs, the cost of living – are getting worse.

Brexit is clearly not the answer. Thankfully there are three ways to ease people’s concerns over free movement without pulling out of the EU, some of which Blair mentions.

The first is to use all the existing wiggle room in the free movement rules. Other countries are much better at managing migration from other EU states. Blair gave the example of Belgium where EU nationals staying more than three months have to register at their local town hall in his interview with the BBC’s Today programme (listen from 1:38). This makes it easier to enforce rules allowing countries to expel EU citizens after three months if they don’t have a job and cannot support themselves.

EU nationals can also be expelled in the event of fraud or serious crimes. There’s also nothing in EU law giving recent migrants without a job the right to any benefits classed as “social assistance”, such as housing benefit or income support. The UK could move more benefits into this category. Neither can EU citizens just pitch up and start claiming unemployment benefit or jump queues for social housing. Simply making all this clear would help allay public concerns.

Second, the government can change its own policies. Jeremy Corbyn mentioned a few ways in his speech this week, including cracking down on exploitative employers paying cheap wages to foreign workers or reintroducing government-funded English language courses. Other possible measures include: banning companies from recruiting exclusively abroad; training more Brits and thus lowering the demand for foreign workers; and putting more resources into cracking down dangerous criminals entering the country.

The government could also reintroduce a revamped version of Gordon Brown’s Migration Impact Fund, easing pressure on public services and housing in areas experiencing high levels of migration.

Finally, the UK can push for reform from inside the EU. This is increasingly appealing to European governments, with public concern about immigration high across the EU. The UK would have a key ally in Emmanuel Macron, the French president who is pushing reforms to the EU’s so-called Posted Workers Directive, under which European citizens can be posted to other countries and undercut local wages and conditions.

For too long successive UK governments have mismanaged migration, failing to address local pressures and allowing a culture of scapegoating to take root. But Brexit is not the answer. We can address people’s legitimate concerns about free movement without trashing our country in the process.

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Edited by Hugo Dixon

5 Responses to “Blair’s right: Brexit isn’t best way to control migration”

  • Do you think this government, or any previous, would want to admit that it could have dealt with immigration but chose not to because of the benefits to the economy?
    However, they should be challenged on this major contributor to the Brexit vote but as long as they can hide behind “taking back control” they can get away with this lie. Of course, non-EU immigration has always been larger than that from the EU, but again they seem able to avoid all responsibility. How come they are never held to account for this major lie?

  • Went to London (from Dorset) last month overnight for a hospital appointment. On a Siemens train, of course. But realised that the capital simply wouldn’t work without immigrants. The hotel, restaurants and pubs ……..to say nothing of the Hospital, simply wouldn’t run without foreign workers. And they were pleasant, willing, polite….and above all useful. What’s all the fuss about? Amongst the lies, deceit and misinformation leading up to the Referendum, we have seen some honesty from Farage at his personal meeting with Barnier when he said something along the lines of: “you don’t understand that it’s really all about immigration…..”.
    Not. Great fan of Blair, but when he, Major et al agree, maybe there is sense still existing. Let’s hope more of them come out of the woodwork.

  • Absolutely correct! I cannot believe that it’s taken all this time for anyone in Parliament to show up and explain the exact procedure when it comes to FoM! (And T Blair is not even an MP anymore!).

    This shows you yet again how hopeless the Home office has always been and how misleading May + her cabinet of spin politicians and the Media in general have been over Brexit issues. It’s so obvious the Brexit politicians are hoping to make a quick buck as they promise US health agencies to come over to UK whilst they break up our NHS etc.etc. And all those secretly negotiated free trade deals with no regulations attached that are normally in place to protect workers, agriculture and consumers in general. The Wild West is what they’re dreaming of.

    I’m a British citizen who has lived and worked in Spain, Italy, Luxembourg and Belgium and on each occasion, I had to register with the local police then with the equivalent of the Home Office. I showed my ID, bank statement and even work contract. In one country I didn’t have a job but had to prove that I could look after myself for at least the 1st three months by showing a bank account or by giving the name and address of somebody who would be willing to take on ‘financial responsibility’ for my needs until such time as I found a job. I was always warned that I would not be able to claim any benefits until I had worked and paid into the system for at least 6 months and even then, any benefit would have a time limit. As if that wasn’t enough, I had to show them I had somewhere to live by showing them my rental contract. This would be followed by a visit a few days later by the police who came to make sure that I really was living at that address.

    This shows you yet again how the Brexit Extremists are either totally IGNORANT or purposefully MISLEADING (and hence corrupt!). They really should be sacked from their posts as MPs and even prosecuted for lying to the public; in the case they claim ignorance then sacked for being totally incompetent and incapable of doing their job. Brexit is Outrageous and I’m furious! It really feels like a Coup d’Etat!

    Of course the EU isn’t perfect and nor are our institutions but we should be striving to make it better and more progressive for the Many and not the few and that includes for all citizens of EU 28 countries.

    The British extreme right wing elements of the Tory party are just like the Republican Tea Party lot who dream of extremely low taxes, no regulation, tax havens galore and no minimum wage; these are the 21st century Cowboys and I wouldn’t trust them as far as I can throw them! Financially and morally corrupt, the lot of then! If we let them, they will completely destroy our Welfare system and everything that was good about the UK and indeed Europe for they (e.g. Farage and Steve Bannon are running around the Continent interfering in European elections by firing up extreme right win parties and their leaders).

    And all this when Europe and America and every Developed nation should be doing everything in their power to stop Wars and Nuclear proliferation. Interesting to see which countries are actually encouraging the aforementioned and hence together with Climate change we have a serious mass immigration. Not surprisingly really. I would flee from War or from a place with no water, wouldn’t you??
    So stop blaming EU citizens working in UK.

  • I wouldn’t characterise it as “mismanagement” of migration. The evidence suggests that post-war policy by governments of all colours has been for high immigration, even while affecting a hard line against it. This has been, of course, nothing whatsoever to do with the EU.

    -A.

  • I think Blair is spot on, and as someone who has experience of dealings with the EU at the heart of government, he is well placed to comment.
    We, with the help of the national media, have allowed freedom of movement to become a non-negotiable ‘red line’ when the experience of other countries is that much can be done to restrict it through imaginative enforcement of it’s terms.
    Other countries definitely put a time limit on how long you can look for a job, and there is certanly no automatic entitlement to social benefits if you are out of work or on low income etc. Also, there are provisions for deporting those who have broken the law irrespective of Freedom of Movement. Those pushing Brexit are probably aware of all this, but probably don’t want these facts to spoil their case for leaving the EU, which long pre-dates the relatively recent focus on free movement.
    We really do not need to leave the Single Market from which so many benefits to trade and to those individuals having dealings in Europe stem from.
    Also, I feel this is the key to reaching an agreement with the EU.