Former UK leader advises immigration curbs instead of Brexit

By GREGORY KATZEconomic IndicatorsAssociated Press

Former Prime Minister Tony Blair is not giving up his campaign to prevent Britain from leaving the European Union, using a Sunday Times article to propose that Britain instead toughen its rules on EU immigration.

The outspoken Brexit opponent says reducing immigration from EU countries into Britain would satisfy many who voted in favor of Brexit in the June, 2016 referendum without subjecting the country to the economic havoc it would face if it leaves the 28-nation bloc.

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Blair, who led the Labour Party to three consecutive electoral victories, admits his government okayed the open door policy that brought many eastern Europeans to Britain after their countries joined the EU in 2004. He said times — and economic conditions — have changed, making it mandatory for stiff new controls to be put in place.

"There can be no change to Brexit unless we confront the underlying causes of it," Blair said, conceding that the referendum vote showed a widespread feeling that unchecked immigration was forcing wages down, straining public services, and — particularly when it involves conservative Muslims — raising questions of cultural integration.

Blair's intervention comes as Parliament prepares to vote Monday on a Brexit bill that would eventually convert large swaths of EU law into British law once Brexit is finalized, which is expected early in 2019.

His predecessor, former Prime Minister John Major of the Conservative Party, has also warned about the negative consequences of Brexit.

Blair said many senior politicians know that leaving the EU is a grave error that will cause deep economic hardship but feel "trapped" by the referendum vote and as a result are supporting Brexit even though they don't believe in it.

His proposal is based on the concept that the will of the people can be respected if EU immigration is substantially cut both by a series of new rules and by negotiations with EU leaders.

Blair's proposal would require EU immigrants to register upon arrival in Britain so officials can find out whether they find jobs or study. It would also require EU nationals to prove they have a confirmed job offer before they can settle in Britain, and ban those without permission from renting property, opening a bank account, or claiming benefits.

In addition, it would make it harder for immigrants to qualify for the National Health Service and allow universities to charge EU nationals higher tuition rates.