Tony Blair admits open borders are no longer appropriate for the UK - but still wants to find a way to avoid Brexit

Emma Haslett
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Former Prime Minister Tony Blair Returns To His Old Constituency
Blair called on MPs to avoid voting down party lines on Brexit (Source: Getty)

Tony Blair has waded back into the Brexit debate, arguing there is a way to limit immigration without leaving the European Union, admitting open borders are no longer appropriate for the UK.

In a paper for his think tank, the Tony Blair Foundation, Blair radically changed his stance on immigration, saying the government must "confront the underlying causes" of Brexit in order to avoid the "immense damage a Hard Brexit - and frankly there is no other on offer - will do".

Blair, who oversaw a dramatic rise in EU migration during his time as Prime Minister after a raft of eastern European countries joined the bloc, suggested the solution lies in supporting the Single Market but controlling immigration where it matters.

"Most of those who come to Britain from other European countries either have skilled jobs to go to; or are working in industries, where there is a shortage of British workers; or are studying; or are legitimate dependents.

"The reality is that, after Brexit, we will need to encourage most of these categories to keep coming; otherwise we will do ourselves serious economic damage."

He added the UK had changed since he left office in 2007, causing the public's stance on immigration to change.

"10 years ago, Britain’s economy was strong, satisfaction levels with the NHS were at record highs, educational attainment was improving, crime was falling and inequality was narrowing.

"But the financial crisis and years of austerity have taken their toll. The poorest have suffered; middle incomes have stagnated; and the cultural gap between metropolitan and rural, North and South, older and younger, has yawned over our political discourse, dividing the nation.

"Brexit was the instrument to force the political class to abandon its lassitude and wake up to the depth of the anger. However, Brexit is not the answer to it."

In an appearance on the Andrew Marr show this morning, Blair argued the UK's discomfort with immigration was a symptom, rather than a cause, of rising inequality.

The thing that I'm saying is that at the moment you either do leave, Brexit... or we have the status quo. I'm trying to say this. In the end, Brexit is a distraction, not a solution to the problems with country faces.

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He also called on MPs to avoid voting down party lines.

"I think each MP has got to... look at this decision in a different category from the normal decision where you obey the party whip.

"If you believe there is a better way through... at least try and explain that to the country. Find the leadership to say to people, there is a different and better way."

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