Tony Blair has admitted he had no idea how many people would migrate to Britain when the European Union (EU) expanded to include former Communist Eastern Europe states such as Poland.
After the 2004 expansion of the EU – with 10 new countries including Poland, Lithuania, and Hungary joining – Mr. Blair’s New Labour government decided not to implement transitional immigration controls like the majority of other European states.
Asked if he knew how many people would move to Britain, the former Prime Minister told the BBC’s Andrew Marr: “No, we didn’t know the numbers.”
He continued: “There was freedom of movement of people immediately. We could have delayed for four years their ability to come here and work.
“We didn’t, it’s true, the economy was in a completely different position in 2004. But I point out the majority of EU immigration came post 2008.
“One of the tragedies of Brexit is we are now in a situation where we think this enlargement of the European Union… was some sort of error.
“It was actually a bipartisan policy of both governments that has done great benefits to this country overall.”
But official figures suggest Mr. Blair is mistaken. In the year before the 2004 expansion, just 15,000 EU migrants moved to Britain. But in 2004, the figure leapt to 87,000.
And in 2005 that rose to 96,000, before increasing again in 2006 to 104,000 and to 127,000 in 2007.
During the interview, Mr. Blair also said it was “possible” the public mood would change on Brexit and the Labour party should be fighting to offer the public the “option of staying” inside the EU.
Paul Nuttall, the UKIP leader, responded to Mr. Blair’s intervention and calls to overthrow the referendum result in a statement.
He said: “Blair has demonstrated his arrogant belief that he and his supporters have special access to knowledge again. It was this mistaken belief that took the country into illegal war, maybe he should have learned his lesson.
“I should be grateful though, every time Blair turns up on our screens or in our papers he reminds people of the reasons that they voted to free the country from the grip of people like him.
“As Brexit comes to be a reality we will see the advantages of our decision. We will no longer be expecting, as Blair did and amazingly still does, the creation of a mythological ‘reformed EU’, a prospect as likely as finding Atlantis off the mouth of Medway.
“Blair was wrong then, he is wrong now and from what he is saying plans to remain wrong for the foreseeable future. Like an old tired aristocrat, he has learned nothing from the Referendum, yet forgotten nothing from his years of pomp.”