Britain belongs in Europe, says Blair

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Tony Blair today insisted he had heard the message from the 2.7 million people who voted for the UK Independence Party.

Tony Blair today insisted he had heard the message from the 2.7 million people who voted for the UK Independence Party.

But he said it would be an act of "extraordinary foolishness" to give in to the party's demand to pull Britain out of the EU.

UKIP's stunning gains in last week's European Parliament elections were a clear warning to both Labour and the Conservatives.

Bolstered by the celebrity backing of talkshow host turned Euro MP Robert Kilroy-Silk, the party quadrupled its representation in Europe taking 16% of the vote and making remarkable inroads into Tory support.

Speaking at his monthly Downing Street press conference, Mr Blair said no politician could afford to ignore the voice of the voters. But he again insisted he would not alter his course on Europe.

"What we will not do is to marginalise Britain in Europe simply for the sake of it," he said.

"It is in Britain's interests to be at the heart of Europe whatever the problems and difficulties of Europe," he said.

"No politician can afford to be deaf to the voice of the electorate. There are clearly big challenges ahead for the country, concerns that we have to address, big arguments to be won about the future direction of policy in this country. But these are arguments I am prepared to win."

Mr Blair added: "I don't disrespect people who voted for any political party. But you have also got to fight for what you believe in.

"I think it would be an act of extraordinary foolishness for us as a country in the early 21st century to withdraw from the biggest political alliance in the world, and the biggest economic market right on our doorstep."

The Premier said he did not disrespect anybody who believed Britain would be better off outside the EU. But he thought it was the wrong position for the country.

He stressed his "practical approach" to Europe.

"You have a situation where we as a country have probably an almost unique position in the world because we are the strongest ally of the United States, which is the world's only super-power.

"And we are members of the biggest political alliance and biggest economic market in the world, through Europe.

"Why should we give either of these two things up?" he asked.

Mr Blair said that some countries would "give their eye teeth" to be in that position.