Tony Blair: Nigel Farage and Ukip are ‘deceiving’ British public and ‘holding back’ the unemployed with immigration rhetoric
Former prime minister hit out at Eurosceptics for ‘traducing our national interest – not satisfying it’
Tony Blair has accused Eurosceptics like Ukip of deceiving the British public over the benefits of leaving the EU and the dangers of immigration, and said Nigel Farage was actually harming the country’s “white, working-class unemployed youth”.
In a speech at the London Business School that put the case for the UK to lead reform in Brussels instead of leaving the union altogether, the former prime minister hit out at Ukip for “traducing our national interest” under the “false banner of independence”.
Mr Blair denied any personal ambitions to the role of EU Commission President, and with critics looking to turn the accusation of “deceiving the public” back on him deflected a question about the ongoing Iraq Inquiry as “for another day”.
In what can only have been a thinly-veiled attack on Mr Farage, the Ukip leader, Mr Blair said it was “dangerous and wrong for leaders in British politics” to give people the idea “that what's holding them back is that somebody is coming in and taking that opportunity from them”.
“It is a deception to tell people that they're better off just shutting down in the face of it [immigration], or stigmatising those who are different in race, colour, nation or faith.”
He acknowledged globalisation meant the world felt “frightening and insecure” but dismissed arguments for closing off the UK to immigrants.
Mr Blair said it was 'dangerous and wrong for leaders in British politics' to tell people it is immigration that is holding them back “The answer to the white, working-class unemployed youth in alienated communities in Britain is not to tell them their problems would be solved if there were fewer Polish people working in the UK,” he said.
Instead they needed the skills to compete, he said. “It actually holds them back by giving them a grievance and not a chance.”
And with the prospect of an in/out referendum on the EU in 2017 if David Cameron remains in No 10, Mr Blair said: “It is not those who argue that Britain should be in Europe who are at odds with our nation's history, but those who under a false banner of independence would make this country dependent on global powers and their manoeuvres that we would be powerless to influence or inhibit; who would have us exit from a principal stage of the world, on the grounds that we would be better able to write our own script, when all that would in reality happen is that the stage would remain, the play would continue, the actors would act, but without our participation.
“This is not satisfying our national interest; it is traducing it.”
Mr Blair said Britain would be “highly successful as a country” if it took advantage of its connections with the rest of the world – “its language, its position, its history”.
He added: “We are never going to do that by an attitude that says: ‘We don't like foreigners’.”
His interjection into British and European politics came as Mr Cameron faced criticism for openly opposing the federalist former Luxembourg prime minister Jean-Claude Juncker’s push for the EU presidency.
And in an apparent swipe at Mr Cameron's reported intervention, Mr Blair said: “There shouldn't be any predisposition towards one person or against any one person.”
Proposing sweeping reforms, he called for the European Council, made up of leaders from across the EU, to set out an agenda for change, and said Britain must build alliances for the good of the EU as a whole and “not simply to satisfy a narrow gauge dispute between the UK and the rest of Europe”.
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