Former Labour Prime Minister Tony Blair defended his immigration policies arguing that migrants who come to Britain have played a positive role and they should not be made a “scapegoat for our problems”.
The former British Prime Minister said that the debate over immigration should be “handled with care” as he indicated it could descend into racism and nationalism, according to a report in the Telegraph.
Blair insisted that he was not “out of touch” with the concerns of ordinary Britons and said, “the Polish community contributes a lot to this country”.
In a rare address to journalists in Parliament, Mr Blair delivered the warning just days after Ed Miliband, the Labour leader, claimed that his party had previously done “too little” to address the impacts of mass immigration.
However, the former Prime Minister declined to apologise for his policies and launched a staunch defence of the benefits of immigration.
“Of course it has to be controlled, and illegal immigration has to be tackled head on. It’s important that we do that,” he said. “But overall I would like to say that I think immigration has been good for Britain and most immigrants have assimilated well. So don’t make them a scapegoat for our problems.”
Mr Blair has been repeatedly criticised after his Government issued official predictions forecasting that 13,000 people would move to Britain after immigration controls were lifted from Eastern Europe in 2004. Hundreds of thousands of Eastern Europeans subsequently relocated to this country putting pressure on schools and other public services.
However, the former Prime Minister also refused to accept that this policy had been misguided.
Mr Blair was making a rare appearance in Parliament during which he spoke and answered questions.
He also urged politicians to talk about the benefits of Britain’s membership of the European Union – describing discussions about leaving the union as “dangerous and immensely damaging”.
“Talk of leaving [the EU] is dangerous, immensely damaging to Britain’s long-term interests,” he said. “I think the UK has an opportunity to play a part in shaping the new Europe and it should seize it. And we should neither have an empty chair nor empty gestures.”
He said that the issue was now being regularly raised with him at high-level meetings around the world.
The former Prime Minister also reiterated previous comments that he had “condoned” or been aware of British agents torturing foreign terror suspects – or allowing other countries to conduct such activities on the behalf of the country. The British authorities are currently investigating whether any secret agents were complicit in rendition or torture.
Although denying any knowledge of such conduct, Mr Blair added: “It is important that people remember that at the time our country was facing a very severe threat from terrorism.”
The Blair Government presided over a period of economic prosperity at the same time UK immigration and student recruitment was expanded. Coincidence?
Conservative London Mayor Boris Johnson recently said that new rules tightening rules on visas for overseas non-EU students sends out the “wrong signal” and could damage the UK’s multi-billion pound higher education market.
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