Former U.K. Prime Minister Tony Blair said he believes British voters will “do the sensible thing” and vote to stay in the European Union in next month’s referendum.
“If we were to leave, it would put a level of economic insecurity into the ordinary family household that I think most people would think is a foolish risk to take,” Blair said in a Bloomberg Television interview at the Milken Institute Global Conference in Los Angeles on Tuesday. “But I have to say I look at politics round the world these days and it’s in an unpredictable state.”
Prime Minister David Cameron and his fellow campaigners for Britain to stay in the EU in the June 23 vote have made much of the risks to the economy and living standards they say a so-called Brexit would involve. A Treasury report warned U.K. growth prospects would be “permanently damaged.” Proponents of leaving say Britain would be freer to strike its own trade deals with the rest of the world.
Blair, who left office in 2007 after 10 years, defended his own decision to open the door to migrants from Eastern Europe, which led to an influx that has driven much of the hostility to the EU within the U.K. “Personally, I do not feel that the immigration from Eastern Europe was a problem for Britain,” he said. “I think those people contribute far more in taxes than they ever take in benefits. They’re hard-working people, they’re good members of our community.”
The former prime minister said “rational” people in Britain would welcome the words of Barack Obama, who warned against a Brexit during a visit to the U.K. last month . The U.S. president’s intervention was attacked by London Mayor Boris Johnson, who suggested he might dislike Britain because of his “part-Kenyan” ancestry.
A TNS poll released on Wednesday found 39 percent of people saying they’d vote to stay in the EU, 36 percent saying they’d vote to leave, and 26 percent undecided. The company interviewed 1,221 U.K. adults online April 26-28. Its previous poll, published April 20, put the “Remain” side 4 percentage points ahead.
Blair, a former Labour Party leader, also weighed into the controversy over comments made last week by former London Mayor Ken Livingstone linking Hitler to Zionism, which highlighted broader concerns over racism in the party. “I know I speak for the overwhelming majority of Labour Party members when I say there’s absolutely no place for anti-Semitism in our party,” he said. “We have always been strong and powerful campaigners against that type of prejudice and that type of
If the U.K. does vote to leave the EU, its departure from the 28-nation bloc will only follow years of negotiations, mainly about how to handle non-Britons living in the country and Britons living abroad, according to a House of Lords report published on Wednesday.
While much of the focus of debate ahead of the vote has been on the possible outcomes of trade negotiations between the EU and a newly separated U.K., negotiations over leaving would be likely to focus on the rights of the 2 million Britons living elsewhere in the EU, and of EU citizens currently in the U.K., the Lords European Union Committee said.
“This is complex stuff,” the panel chairman, Timothy Boswell, said in a statement. “You are talking about rights of residence, to health care and schooling, about maintenance payments and access to children, about research projects and contracts that cross borders.” Resolving such issues “would be a daunting task,” he said.
The talks could be complicated by the need for any deal to be agreed by both the European Parliament and the European Council, representing EU governments. The European Parliament would be likely to seek to protect EU citizens currently living in the U.K., the panel concluded.