Blair: We can clamp down on immigration and stay in the EU

PUBLISHED: 11:06 10 September 2017 | UPDATED: 11:06 10 September 2017

Tony Blair speaking on the BBC's Andrew Marr Show today earlier today (Sunday)

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Tony Blair today made an explosive intervention in the Brexit debate, calling for tough new immigration rules which would allow Britain to stay in the EU.

In a policy paper for The Tony Blair Institute for Global Change, the former Prime Minister has called on the Government to make EU citizens coming to Britain register on arrival so they can be counted in and out.

The paper argues that by bringing in strict immigration controls it would be possible to satisfy Brexiteer demands to take back control of borders without leaving the EU.

Existing rules do already permit the removal of EU citizens if they do not find work after three months in Britain, but have not been enforced by the Government.

In what is expected to be the first of several policy papers Mr Blair's think tank is set to publish in the coming weeks, the institute suggests restricting access to free healthcare for unemployed EU citizens and allowing universities and businesses to discriminate in favour of British citizens.

The former prime minister, a prominent anti-Brexit campaigner, told the BBC's Andrew Marr that he accepted last year's Leave vote but there were ways of controlling EU immigration without leaving.

He said he believed Britain would leave the EU "unless it starts to become obvious that the public is having second thoughts", adding that "hasn't become obvious yet".

He said: "If we put this case to people, maybe they will listen. If they don't - I accept it goes forward."

In an opinion piece for The Sunday Times, Mr Blair acknowledged that his intervention appeared a major reversal after he imposed no restrictions on immigration when eight countries from eastern Europe joined the EU in 2004.

He wrote that “back then the economy was strong, the workers needed” but said the approach was no longer appropriate.

“The times were different; the sentiment was different, and intelligent politics takes account of such change," he said.

He wrote that the concerns of leave voters about “pressure on services”, “downward pressure on wages”, the “cultural integration” of migrants and control “cannot be ignored”.

Countries including Belgium already require EU migrants to register on arrival so there can be checks on whether they then go to work or study. Under Mr Blair's institute's plans EU nationals without permission to stay would be barred from renting a home, opening a bank account or accessing welfare benefits.

Also appearing on the Marr show, Defence Secretary Sir Michael Fallon accused Mr Blair of a belated "epiphany" on border controls.

He said: "I think it's a pity he didn't think of that when all these new countries were admitted to the European Union on his watch."

Anti-Brexit Conservative Ken Clarke told Sky News it was "hopeless" to think the UK could stay in the EU, given the "mood of the country".

Downing Street has declined to comment.

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