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'Don't blame migrants for Britain's troubles': Tony Blair delivers series of thinly-veiled warnings to Ed MilibandEx-Prime Minister urges greater welfare reform but warns of the dangers of Euroscepticism and 'flattening' the City with regulation
He defends the Bush years, insisting rendition and torture was wrong but happened at a time when 'our people were threatened'
02:11 GMT, 19 December 2012
Tony Blair yesterday delivered a series of thinly-veiled warnings to Ed Miliband over Labour’s positions on immigration, welfare reform and the Leveson Report.
In a highly unusual intervention into British politics, the former prime minister declined to say whether he would campaign for the Labour leader at the next election expected in 2015.
Days after Mr Miliband claimed previous Labour governments had done ‘too little’ to deal with the impact of mass immigration, Mr Blair defended his record and warned that debate on the issue should be ‘handled with care’.
Warnings: Tony Blair, left, yesterday delivered a series of thinly-veiled warnings to Ed Miliband, right, over Labour's positions on immigration, welfare reform and the Leveson Report
Rejecting suggestions that it had been a mistake to open the door to migrants from new EU members in eastern Europe, Mr Blair said: ‘People look back and say you should have done more to restrict particularly Eastern European immigration.
‘I look back on that, and you can have a debate about it, but personally I think the Polish community contributes a lot to this country. In many ways immigrants do a lot for our country. They bring fresh energy, fresh initiative and I think it will be a sad day if we end up targeting them.
‘Of course it has to be controlled, and illegal immigration has to be tackled head on. But overall I think immigration has been good for Britain and most immigrants have assimilated well.
So don’t make them a scapegoat for our problems.’ Mr Blair also insisted it was ‘obvious’ that major changes needed to be made to sickness benefits and suggested the ageing population meant a fundamental reassessment of the post-war welfare state was necessary.
His remarks will be seen as a swipe at Labour’s stance on welfare.
The opposition has criticised almost all of Work and Pensions Secretary Iain Duncan Smith’s attempts to trim the vast benefits bill, including increasing most working age benefits by only 1 per cent a year for the next three years.
Comeback kid Euan (left) joined his family on the steps of Number 10 in June 2007 when his father left Downing Street for the last time
Addressing a lunch attended by
Westminster journalists, Mr Blair appeared to contradict Mr Miliband’s
insistence that there must be a new Press law following the Leveson
Report into media standards.
He agreed with the main recommendations, and did not understand the ‘vehemence’ of objections to legislation to back up a more effective newspaper watchdog.
But he added: ‘I think that the most important thing is whatever comes out of this is something that’s independent of government, Parliament and the media. How you do that, I am open-minded about.’
In another apparent warning to Mr Miliband, Mr Blair sided with David Cameron and London Mayor Boris Johnson by backing their calls for an end to ‘banker bashing’, saying the success of the City was critical to Britain’s attempts to emerge from the economic mire.
Mr Blair refused to indicate whether he would campaign for Mr Miliband in 2015. ‘That’s a long way away,’ he said. ‘I can’t really think that far ahead.’
'REMEMBER THE CONTEXT': BLAIR DENIES KNOWLEDGE OF TORTURE BUT INSISTS BRITISH PEOPLE WERE THREATENED IN WAR ON TERROR
British Prime Minister Tony Blair and Libyan leader Colonel Muammar Gaddafi in 2004
Tony Blair denied any knowledge of the use of torture in the War on Terror, but urged his critics to remember the ‘context’ in which the security services were operating.
The former Prime Minister was challenged over claims his government was complicit in the extraordinary rendition of Libyan dissidents, who were allegedly tortured after being handed over to the Gaddafi regime.
Last week the British government agreed to pay 2.2million to Sami al Saadi, 45, who was dispatched with his wife and four young children back to his native Libya where he was imprisoned and maltreated.
The ‘rendition’ operation – conducted with apparent MI6 support – took place only three days after Mr Blair visited Libya for the now infamous 2004 ‘deal in the desert’ with Colonel Gaddafi (pictured).
Today Mr Blair insisted he would not comment on individual cases.
But he added: ‘It is just important that people remember that at the time our country was facing a very severe threat from terrorism and we were trying to protect our people and our troops.
‘Some of those organisations like Libyan Fighting Group were trying to recruit people to go and kill our people.
‘I don’t believe that anybody in government either condoned or turned a blind eye to the use of torture. We wouldn’t condone the use of torture of maltreatment of suspects at all. At the moment of time we were in a very, very tough situation. It is important to remember the context, so there it is.’