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Tony Blair is a national hero (if you are Polish!) Former PM given award by country for helping thousands come to live in Britain
Poland grateful to Blair's 'open door' immigration policiesBlair said: ‘I have a lot of admiration for Poland and the Polish people’Number of Poles living in Britain now stands at approximately 625,000
23:49 GMT, 29 January 2013
10:36 GMT, 30 January 2013
Tony Blair was given a gong at the Polish Business Leaders Awards in Warsaw
In Britain, his ‘open door’ immigration policies have been criticised by all sides.
But in Poland, which was transformed by entry into the EU, Tony Blair is feted as a hero.
And yesterday the former Prime Minister was handed a special award for helping hundreds of thousands of Poles come to live in the UK.
He was honoured with the gong at the annual Polish Business Leaders Awards ceremony in Warsaw.
Mr Blair's prize paid tribute to his backing for Poland’s efforts to join the EU, opening up the British labour market to Poles and overseeing a growth in trade between the two countries while in office.
A golden statuette was accepted in his absence by Robin Barnett, Britain’s ambassador in Poland.
But Mr Blair recorded a video message for the audience at Warsaw’s National Opera house, in which he said ‘I have a lot of admiration for Poland and the Polish people’.
He also praised the Business Centre Club, a group of 2,500 influential commercial leaders which organises the awards, for its ‘fantastic work’ at a ‘tough time economically’.
The award, referred to as the ‘Special Prize’, is awarded to a figure from outside the world of business who has helped Poland.
Previous winners include Margaret Thatcher, Bill Clinton and Bertie Ahern. Mr Blair shared it with two Poles, former defence minister Janusz Onyszkiewicz and former deputy prime minister Janusz Steinhoff.
Around 700,000 eastern Europeans migrated to the UK form eight former communist nations when they were admitted to the European Union in 2004 – despite ministers predicting only 15,000 a year would arrive.
Between December 2003 and December 2010 the Polish-born population of the UK increased from 75,000 to 532,000.
Latest census figures reveal that the number of Poles living in Britain now stands at 625,000.
British Ambassador to Poland Robin Barnett (left) collects the Special Award on behalf of Tony Blair
Former Prime Minister Tony Blair, (left) with former Polish Prime
Minister Jaroslaw Kaczynski, (right) greeting journalists ahead of talks in Warsaw, Poland, in 2007
Tory MP Philip Hollobone, raged last night: ‘This award is entirely appropriate.
‘Tony Blair presided over the biggest wave of immigration this country has seen since the Norman conquest, 2.5million net migrants came in to the UK while he was in charge and Britain will never be the same again’.
Ed Miliband spoke out last year to say the relaxation of immigration controls – under which only Britain, Ireland and Sweden allowed people from new member countries unrestricted rights to live and work – were a ‘mistake’.
Mr Miliband said the Labour government had underestimated both the numbers of Polish immigrants and the ‘big effect’ it had on living standards for working-class households.
But Mr Blair recently defended his record, saying Polish immigrants did ‘good work in our country’ and that ‘most sensible people’ appreciated their contribution to Britain.
Ex-Prime Ministers Jarolslaw Kaczynski of Poland and Tony Blair of the UK pose with their wives outside London's Number 10 Downing Street in 2006
First bus from Polish city of Swinemuende ready to pass under
dismantled border barrier on the German-Polish border in Ahlbeck on Dec. 21, 2007. Poland was transformed by entry into the EU