Tony Blair Foreword: Balanced Migration

Tony Blair Foreword: Balanced Migration

Tony Blair Foreword: Balanced Migration

Commentary

5 min read

Undoubtedly one of the main drivers of support for Brexit was anxiety about the levels of immigration and the ability to control it.

I have said from the beginning that if the country is to re-think its position on leaving the European Union, it can only be in the context of a new policy agenda which deals with the underlying grievances which gave rise to Brexit.

This is part of the policy work upon which my Institute is working.

Today we publish a report calling for radical changes in immigration policy. We propose a universal e-identity for all citizens. To work and /or access benefits, individuals would be required to produce proof that they have a legal right to reside, digitally signed by a recognised authority. For those without a mobile phone or computer, there would be the option of a physical card or passport.

The technology has completely transformed the debate around the issue of Identity Cards in the old parlance. There are no good reasons today for not doing this. Countries like France and Germany and many other European nations are already going down this path. It is the only effective way of curbing illegal immigration the estimates of which vary for the UK between 500,000 and over 1m. Estonia is the country most advanced in implementation of such a policy and the results have been positive.

Today we publish a report calling for radical changes in immigration policy.

We propose also a human capital points-based system, ways to attract high skilled migration and deter low skilled except where economically necessary. We set out a comprehensive plan for integration, making sure that those who come into our country understand and share the values of our society, for controls on family migration and make the case for reforms on asylum and humanitarian protection. 

An earlier report showed how with better application of existing rules on freedom of movement and reasonable reforms in Europe on the principle whilst keeping its essence, we can reduce immigration from within Europe without losing the clear benefits of much of European migration for our workforce and Universities.

The reality is that Brexit is not the answer to the problems the country faces. There are better and more effective ways of tackling the challenges we face and the irony is, as several reports have shown, that the areas which most heavily voted ‘Leave’ are the ones most adversely affected by Brexit.

So, I understand completely why politicians will want to say that following the referendum there is no option but to do Brexit as ‘the will of the people’. But I also think that as our understanding of what Brexit really means advances and the complexity of the negotiation and the inherent trade-offs of the choices become clear, it is perfectly reasonable for politicians to say let us wait until the negotiation is concluded and see whether the outcome is a good one for the country; and in the meantime, in any event, let us set about dealing with the policy questions of the day in ways which will truly make a difference.

The reality is that Brexit is not the answer to the problems the country faces. There are better and more effective ways of tackling the challenges we face.

The Government has promised a deal which both gives us the same or nearly the same access to the Single Market as now; but at the same time allows us to leave the Single Market and have our laws divergent from those of that Market where the other 27 nations will remain.

I don't believe that is deliverable. But time will tell.

In the House of Commons on Monday, the Prime Minister made a very important statement. She said that she would ensure that when Parliament comes to vote on the Brexit negotiation, it will know not only the terms of the Withdrawal agreement with Europe but also the detail of the proposed new relationship, ‘sufficient detail’ as she said, to make a properly informed decision.

This is a vital commitment and one to which the Government should be held, so that we do not take the irrevocable step of leaving before we know precisely what we are going to.

If at the same time as there is a full debate about the effect of this new proposed relationship, there is the articulation of a policy agenda which specifically addresses the concerns of that part of the population which is not ideologically opposed to Europe but was registering their strong dissatisfaction with the status quo, on issues like immigration, then this is a combination which could shift opinion substantially.

The key moment will be when the one missing fact of elephantine proportions, namely knowledge of the terms of the new relationship with Europe, is finally put on the table.

It is often said that since the referendum result there has been no real change in public opinion. This is hard to gauge. The key moment will be when the one missing fact of elephantine proportions, namely knowledge of the terms of the new relationship with Europe, is finally put on the table.

But what is for sure is that without taking seriously and acting upon the worries people have of a sincere and deeply felt nature about issues like immigration there is no way of changing Brexit without profound alienation.

This is the pact at the heart of any reconsideration around Brexit. We should not do ruinous damage to the economic and political future of Britain by leaving our biggest market and most major political alliance to which we are bound by history and geography. But we listen to, reflect upon and act upon the acute sense of grievance which gave rise to the Brexit vote.

This is the right path to a future which allows the country to prosper and stay united.   

Balanced Migration: A Progressive Approach

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