Blair’s five absurdities of immigration, as ignored by the BBC

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Blair’s five absurdities of immigration, as ignored by the BBC

Bruce Newsome points out five of Tony Blair’s ‘absurdities of immigration’ he revealed during his interview with BBC Radio 4’s Today programme earlier this week.

Tony Blair wants to tell you what to think about immigration. He chose to be interviewed on the subject on BBC Radio 4’s Today programme, on the morning before his prepared speech at a think-tank, when he promised to resolve all current issues from immigration through populism to Brexit and indeed globalization.

Blair’s responses in interview were absurd, but the BBC didn’t help you to spot them. Perhaps that’s why the BBC hasn’t separated the interview for your listening pleasure. (You can hear it here by fast-forwarding to 2:12:30.) One newspaper reported that Blair was “torn apart” by the interviewer (John Humphrys), but only because Humphrys spat out the phrase “fantasy land” in response to Blair’s airy optimism that the EU summit would solve the migration crisis. In fact, Humphrys often spits “fantasy land” as an interruption. Humphrys is good at interrupting guests but not good at tearing apart the content of his guests’ arguments – he’s too lazy to do sufficient research beforehand, too perfunctory to listen carefully enough, too scripted, too egotistical. Humphrys is easily baffled by Blair’s breathless urgency, diversions, and counter-interruptions.

That’s a shame, because Blair’s spin is always rife with absurdities. Here, I’ll explain five of Blair’s absurdities of immigration from one short interview alone.

First, take Blair’s absurd defence of his decision in 2004 to allow free movement of peoples from the EU’s ten new member states: “What you could have done [was a] transition arrangement for freedom to work; the anxiety was at the time, and this was a completely different set of circumstances, if people were free to move here, and you stopped them working, then they simply come here anyway and work”. In other words, his excuse for permitting 75 million new EU citizens to live and reside in Britain all at once was that he was powerless – he, the prime minister of a sovereign nation. Humphrys didn’t challenge this absurdity.

Second, take Blair’s characterization of the current migrant “crisis”. He argues that Europe has a migrant crisis for purely material reasons, not because of policy. Blair claimed that “Europeans in the south…simply don’t have the capability of processing these people properly”. Well, hold the interview right there – capabilities follow policies; if member states wanted to process migrants properly, they would; these are wealthy, high-capacity countries.

National governments don’t process migrants properly when it’s not in their self-interests: because most migrants are heading for other countries, or migrants impose their burdens at local levels more than the national level, or the discourse is dominated by progressive reductionists who characterise border controls as racist.

European migrants land in principally Greece, Italy, and France – and head for principally Britain and Germany. Those migrants are supposed to be processed in the first country of landing – where they should be either entered as asylum-seekers or returned as economic migrants. That’s not what happens most of the time: instead, the first country turns a blind eye or even facilitates further migration to a neighbouring country, and so on, until the migrant ends up where he/she wants. That’s precisely what international law says should not happen – once those migrants cross into a second country without completing their asylum, they become economic migrants and should be sent back to either the first country of landing or home.

European member states routinely flout international laws on migration: for decades, Italian governments were flouting international law when they ignored migrants, just as much as the new Italian government is flouting international law by turning away boats without any processing at all; France is flouting the law when it allows migrant camps to spring up on its borders with Britain; France is flouting the law also when it says those migrants are Britain’s asylum-seekers; even Germany was flouting the law when it invited one million migrants to Germany as “Syrian refugees” (since all crossed other countries to get there).

Now let me give you Blair’s third absurdity of immigration. Having fictionalized the migrant crisis as a material problem, his solution is a material solution. He called for “proper systems” and “stronger border controls” – of which the only thing he specified was an “electronic identity” for every migrant “so you know for example who is an asylum-seeker and who is an economic migrant”. However, an electronic identity is the product of proper processing, not the start of it. Unless you persuade member states to follow the rules, they’d never adjudicate any trustworthy identities. You might be consoling yourself that Blair isn’t prime minister anymore; but his absurdity is alive in our current prime minister – Theresa May, who plans to pay the EU to tackle migration, without guarantees on the rules.

Blair’s fourth absurdity is that the migration crisis has nothing to do with the EU’s “freedom of movement”. He said that “non-EU immigration” is the “main concern” and “the principal concern”, particularly immigration from “majority Muslim countries”, due to greater difficulties of “integration.” Freedom of movement meanwhile brings “untold” benefits. Blair should have been interrupted right there to point out the absurdity. Freedom of movement within the EU facilitates non-EU migrants as much as EU citizens, at least once they’re inside the Schengen area. If any member state fails to control a border, all members are exposed.

Blair’s fifth absurdity is to reassert his administration’s insult that opposition to immigration is always prejudicial. He said in interview: “if you want to defend globalization…then you’ve got to deal with the underlying anxieties, of which immigration is the principle one”. To counter those “anxieties,” “you need an immigration system of rules in order to avoid prejudices”.

There you have it: Blair doesn’t want to counter the EU’s rampant rule-breaking except to counter the bigotry of you rule-following squares.

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    Bruce Newsome
    Bruce Newsome, Ph.D. is a lecturer in International Relations at the University of California Berkeley
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