Tony Blair has rejected the idea that he helped fuel the rise of Ukip, and called on politicians to stop indulging the party’s rhetoric on immigration.
The former prime minister made the comments in an interview with Trevor Phillips, the former head of the Equalities and Human Rights Commission, for a new Channel 4 documentary called Things We Won’t Say About Race That Are True.
The Ukip leader, Nigel Farage, told the same programme that he considered Blair to have been the party’s “secret weapon” because of his decisions on immigration and “metrosexual” outlook.
Blair said: “I am in favour of a Britain that is open to the world because I think that is the secret in fact of our economic success and our success as a country over the years.
“I’m prepared to engage in that battle. So when these people go on about ‘well you’re sort of metrosexual’ – I don’t know quite what they mean by that – you know I don’t like the prejudice that is at the core of what they believe and what’s more they just run away with this idea that in modern politics: that the vast majority of people in the country support them. They don’t.”
Blair also repeated his belief it was not a mistake to have have let people from eastern Europe come to the UK to work from 2004, saying the UK is better off as a result. Ed Miliband has since questioned whether it was handled well and said he believes Labour made mistakes on immigration.
But Blair said: “Supposing you put all those people from eastern Europe back out of Britain again would we be a stronger better country? The answer is no.” He went on to make a plea for politicians not to “indulge the rhetoric” of Ukip and to be clear that the party’s policies would make Britain worse.
“You should never disrespect somebody who disagrees and just so that I’m absolutely clear I’m not saying everyone who votes for Ukip is racist. I’m not saying that at all. You’ve got to understand the concerns people have but you do have to expose the fact that what Ukip is offering is not an answer. And you know if you believe that it’s not an answer and in fact all of the main political parties do believe it’s not an answer your actual duty to the public is to say this is not this is not what’s going to work.”
Blair rubbished the idea of Farage trying to negotiate a bespoke agreement between Britain and the European Union in the event of an exit from the bloc.
“I mean it’s not an answer to the problem so when you when you deal with this issue,” he said. “I’m not saying you don’t have to deal with it with a real understanding of the anxieties that people have, but your job as the leader is to try and say, ‘Well look this is where I think we should go’; I mean if you believe in the Ukip thing then say it, but don’t indulge their rhetoric because what you do then is you effectively you give them a greater credibility.”
In the same programme, the Ukip leader also told Phillips that he did not believe there was a need for equalities legislation any more.
This drew condemnation from Farage’s political rivals when it emerged last week, but he has since denied that he meant to abolish any anti-race-discrimination laws.
Phillips has made the documentary because he had come to the conclusion that, while much of the equality movement in Britain had changed it for the better, it might also have led to serious and unwanted consequences that could undermine what had been achieved.
In an article for the Sunday Times, he criticised the instinct to avoid offence, and lack of willingness to discuss race.
“We find it more and more difficult to address real problems in our society because we are afraid to describe them,” he wrote.
Phillips added: “Britain’s lack of frankness is echoed in every major European country and it is fuelling a growth of angry, nativist political movements across the continent. In Sweden, Denmark, Belgium, Greece and Holland, far-right parties have steadily built a solid presence on the political landscape. In France, Marine Le Pen’s National Front is tipped to win next week’s round of local elections.
“At the heart of these parties’ appeal is a simple, oft-stated claim: we are the only people ready to speak the truth. Nothing could be further from reality. But the po-faced political correctness that cramps all the conventional parties is allowing these frauds to get away with it.”
Things We Won’t Say About Race That Are True will be aired on Thursday at 9pm on Channel 4
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