Tony Blair has claimed the only way to make a success of Brexit is to turn Britain into a Singapore-style low-tax, low-regulation country competing with the European Union.
But the former prime minister warned that voters will not back such a huge restructuring of the economy and society, and so Jeremy Corbyn’s Labour is likely to win any post-Brexit election, creating a “serious problem” for the country.
Mr Blair spoke after releasing a paper calling for tough new immigration rules which would allow Britain to exercise more control over who comes into the country, without leaving the EU.
He claimed this would fulfil the will of the people expressed in last year’s Brexit vote while allowing Britain to stay in the EU.
But Defence Secretary Sir Michael Fallon told him to “get over it” and accept that Brexit is happening.
Mr Blair, however, pleaded with Remain-backing Tory ministers like Sir Michael and other MPs to steer the UK away from a “false path” with a choice between an old fashioned right-wing Brexit or “unreconstructed” leftism.
He told BBC One’s The Andrew Marr Show: “I think the only circumstances in which Brexit works, and this is the fantasy of the real Brexiteers – they are in one sense right, that if you leave Europe Britain should become a light-touch, light-regulation … it should become marketed as ‘not Europe’.
“The risk is the British people won’t vote for that, they are not going to vote for the huge economic and social restructuring – to the changes to the health service and other things that that would require.
“And the risk is actually that we have a Brexit followed by, I’m afraid, an unreconstructed leftist programme from Labour, and if you combine those two things together in my view we will be in a very serious situation as a country.”
He went on: “Yes there’s a lot of anger, but give people an answer. There are answers to the anger, there are answers on tuition fees, on social injustice, on communities left behind.”
Mr Blair 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 with the EU.
He 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.
But he said “the times were different” as he released a Tony Blair Institute report calling for tough new measures, including forcing EU immigrants to register on arrival and restricting benefits or access to the NHS for certain groups such as non-workers.
The ex-Labour leader also argued that the UK can negotiate a change to free movement rules with Brussels that would allow an “emergency brake” on EU immigration if public services are overstretched.
Urging MPs to put forward a “different or better way” to the public, Mr Blair said: “I’m trying to say this – in the end Brexit is a distraction not a solution to the problems this country faces.”
Unite boss Len McCluskey said Mr Blair “misses the point” because the only way to stop abuse of migrant workers by “greedy bosses”, which brings about undercutting of wages and conditions, is to properly regulate the jobs market after Brexit.
Describing the ex-PM as “yesterday’s man”, Mr McCluskey told Pienaar’s Politics on BBC Radio Five Live: “He’s as out of touch now as he was in 2004.
“He doesn’t address the idea because what Tony Blair and the New Labour government were a part of, and certainly what the Conservatives have continued, is creating this race to the bottom culture within our society rather than a rate for the job society.”