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Tony Blair urges new immigration rules in bid to stop Brexit

Mr Blair has been blamed in many quarters for the rise in public concern about immigration which culminated in the Brexit vote

TONY Blair has called for tough new immigration rules which would allow Britain to exercise more control over who comes into the country without leaving the EU.

The former prime minister admitted the open borders he presided over are no longer appropriate and put his name to a report calling for tighter domestic controls and the negotiation of modified free movement rules.

This would fulfil the will of the people expressed in last year's Brexit vote while allowing Britain to stay in the EU, and Jeremy Corbyn's Labour should back the approach, he said.

Prime Minister Theresa May has made controlling immigration her absolute Brexit priority but Brussels has stressed the UK will have to leave the single market if it wants to end the free movement of EU nationals.

But in an article for the Sunday Times, Mr Blair said: "There is no diversion possible from Brexit without addressing the grievances which gave rise to it.

"Paradoxically, we have to respect the referendum vote to change it.

"We can curtail the things that people feel are damaging about European immigration, both by domestic policy change and by agreeing change within Europe.

"This is precisely the territory the Labour Party should camp upon."

Mr Blair has been blamed in many quarters for the rise in public concern about immigration which culminated in the Brexit vote, after failing to impose transitional controls on migrants from new EU member states in 2004.

Mr Blair added: "If we go ahead with Brexit, we will have taken the unprecedented decision for a major country to relegate ourselves, like a top-six Premiership side deciding to play exclusively in the Championship.

His comments came as David Davis warned Labour MPs they risked creating chaos if they scuppered the government's plans for transferring laws from Brussels to Britain.

The Brexit Secretary said dissension in a key Commons vote on the Great Repeal Bill would be "simply an attempt to thwart the democratic process", urging MPs on all sides to back the legislation.

Mr Davis insisted negotiations with Brussels were "delivering steady progress" on issues like citizens' rights and the border between Northern Ireland and the Republic.

"Any broad attempt to block the Bill, without any sense of a viable alternative, is simply an attempt to thwart the democratic process," Mr Davis wrote.

Meanwhile, Fianna Fáil leader Micheál Martin has said Northern Ireland and the border counties should be designated a "special economic zone" to challenge poverty and help limit the damage of Brexit.

Speaking at the British-Irish Association in Cambridge, Mr Martin said the north would not break out of a cycle of poverty.

"In fact things will get worse - unless there is a move to address its structural problems," he said.

"I believe the answer is the creation of a Special Economic Zone (SEZ) in Northern Ireland and at least the border counties in the south.

"This can be done while fully respecting the constitutional rights protected in the Good Friday Agreement and incorporated into both UK and Irish law."

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