Factcheck: Tony Blair's imperfect Brexit claims

Former British Prime Minister Tony Blair delivers a keynote speech at a pro-EU event on February 17, 2017 in London, England
Former British Prime Minister Tony Blair delivers his keynote speech Credit:  Carl Court/Getty

The British people voted to leave the European Union due to “imperfect knowledge”, according to Tony Blair, but the former Prime Minister made several imperfect claims of his own.

Claim 1: Britain benefits from EU enlargement.

Mr Blair called EU enlargement one of the “great achievements of British diplomacy of the last decades”. But his failure to impose controls on migrants – as most EU states did – meant that migration from Eastern Europe ballooned.

Claim 2: Britain is worried about non-EU migration, not EU migration.

“For many people, the core immigration question… is immigration from non-European countries,” according to Mr Blair. In fact, Britons are concerned about EU and non-EU immigration alike, as The Migration Observatory at Oxford University has noted.

Claim 3: Britain gains from being in the single market

The “enormous benefit” Britain gets as part of the single market includes “billions of pounds of wealth, hundreds of thousands of jobs and major investment opportunities”, Mr Blair said.

His claim is based on estimates of how many jobs depend on Britain’s trade with the EU, not on its membership of the single market. One of the academics behind this research previously told the Telegraph that it would be “a false perspective” to suggest these jobs would disappear after Brexit.

Also, the European Commission admitted in 2007 that the volume of foreign direct investment had been on the decline for years as the market was “losing its attractiveness”.

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Claim 4: Sterling fall highlights future economic difficulties

Mr Blair said the pound’s decline in value was proof that “we are going to be poorer”. The latest figures suggest it has been great news for UK exporters, particularly for those who want to trade outside of Europe.

The Office for National Statistics noted that exports of goods rose by £2.1bn to £26.8bn in October, the highest level since records began, while exports to non-EU countries jumped to a record £14.4bn.

Claim 5: Getting a deal will take years

The Brexit negotiations “could take years”, Mr Blair estimated. Given that Britain will have two years to strike a deal with the EU after triggering Article 50, he is correct.

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Claim 6: The Brexit vote was not about laws, but immigration

“No one would seriously argue that the European Court of Justice alone provides a reason for leaving Europe,” Mr Blair said. “Immigration is the issue.” That is not what a post-referendum poll by Lord Ashcroft of over 12,000 people found. The top reason Leave voters gave for backing Brexit was not immigration, but because “decisions about the UK should be taken in the UK”.

Claim 7: Brexit risks breaking up the UK

Independence for Scotland, Mr Blair said, is “back on the table” but “much more credible” due to the Brexit process. The Scottish people disagree, as every poll since Theresa May entered Downing Street has found that they would vote to reject it.

Claim 8: Philip Hammond said leaving the Single Market would be 'catastrophic’

The Chancellor was not speaking about ending Britain’s membership of the Single Market, which is the Government’s plan, but about the risk of losing “access” to it. The US, China, Japan and South Korea aren’t members, yet have little trouble trading with the EU.

Claim 9: The people do not want a second referendum

Mr Blair started out by saying “right now there is no widespread appetite to re-think”.

On this he is right, as the latest polls show that the British people remain keen to get on with Brexit.

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