Columns

Blair: Brexit, Trump Voters 'Think They Will Gain Something' with Bid to 'Keep Out Immigration'

Former prime minister Tony Blair campaigns for Britain to remain in the EU at the University of Ulster in Londonderry on June 9, 2016. (Jeff J Mitchell/PA Wire)

Former British Prime Minister Tony Blair predicted one “could go to anywhere in Europe right now and have exactly the same situation” as the Brexit vote or Donald Trump capturing the GOP nomination in the United States.

“My observation is what’s going on in your politics is exactly the same as what’s going on in our politics, in other words, insurgent movements of populism left and right that can get a lot of traction very fast in the politics of the country,” Blair told CNN this morning.

“And these populist movements become very powerful because they can take an issue, particularly an issue like immigration — let’s go back in history. This has always been an issue you can ride in a very strong way, and people genuinely feel strongly about because globalization is changing the world around them. They feel their community is changing. They think they’ve lost something, and they think they will gain something if you manage to keep out immigration.”

Blair added he believes that “the reality is what’s going on in the world is the product of many, many forces not from government.”

“It’s just the way the world is today. It’s coming closer together. Migration, technology travel, all of these things are changing the way that people live and work and think,” he said.

“But I think what it does mean is that those people who are in the center ground and seem like kind of the establishment today have got to reflect very carefully. One, they’ve got to treat these concerns as real and not just dismiss them. And two, if they want to displace the anger, they’ve got to have some answers.”

In the UK, the former prime minister said, with the “free movement of people” between EU countries “just as you have free movement of people between states in the United States… people felt there were too many people coming.”

“I happen to think these guys make a great contribution to our economy. Actually, they pay far more in taxes than they receive in benefits,” Blair stressed. “But you have to accept this was a real concern. I think we could have met that concern in Europe by giving ourselves getter powers in situations where you have a big surge of numbers to try and avoid that situation. So I think there are — and there may even be measures that we can think about doing now that take some of the heat out of that pressure for leaving Europe all together.”

Blair acknowledged “one of the problems with immigration today is within that immigration space there is a security anxiety.”

“Whatever policy you come out with has got to be a policy that doesn’t alienate that large part of Islam that we need on side to defeat this,” he said. “I spent a large amount of time in the Middle East. I see this terrorism, exactly where it’s come from, where it’s grown, and so on. If we want to defeat it, we’ve got to be very clear. Those people who are a security threat, we need to deal with. And if we have special measures that are necessary to deal with them, fine. But don’t do it in a way that alienates the broad swath of decent, law-abiding [Muslims].”