Phillip Hammond, Chancellor of the Exchequer, has claimed that former Prime Minister Tony Blair’s decision to adopt an open border policy in 2004 helped to fuel the Brexit vote over a decade later. Speaking to delegates at the World Economic Forum in Davos, the Chancellor argued that the vote to leave the European Union was about uncontrolled migration, not free trade or anti-globalisation – “there was a strong strand of feeling against uncontrolled migration and I lay the responsibility for that squarely at the door of Prime Minister Blair who failed to impose transitional regime in the UK in 2004 -that created a public perception which we still haven’t shaken off to this day,” he said. Unlike other EU members, including Germany, the Blair government waived Britain’s right to impose “transitional controls” on the free movement of citizens when eight eastern European countries, including Poland and the Czech Republic, joined the union in 2004. Mr. Hammond was echoing comments made by Jean-Claude Juncker the European Commission president last year. However, the Chancellor emphasised that while the UK “cannot accept the principle of freedom of movement any longer, that is not the same as closing our doors” and argued that it was wrong to closely link the Brexit vote with Mr. Trump’s US presidential election win. “It is simply not correct to assess the UK referendum as being one and the same as the movement that led to the election of Donald Trump in the US,” he said. “It was not a vote against free trade. There was no anti-trade rhetoric. No anti-globalisation rhetoric. Indeed one of the central tenets of the Leave campaign was that we should do more trade with the rest of the world. Britain would be free to negotiate trade beyond Europe.” The fall in the value of the pound had helped cushion the UK economy from the “shock” of Brexit, he claimed.
Sign up for our newsletter and get the latest to your inbox.