Charles Clarke was home secretary in Tony Blair’s government during the crucial years of 2004-2006, during which time citizens of the new EU accession countries became eligible to move to the UK under freedom of movement. Instead of making use of the delay and control mechanisms that the UK could have implemented under EU law to slow the rate of immigration from Eastern Europe, the government had an open border policy.
I caught up with him at last week’s Big Tent Ideas Festival and asked whether he now regrets that, as some people identify a renewed hostility to the EU – and the beginning of Brexit – to that period, particularly in such as Lincolnshire with high numbers of Eastern European immigrants.
He maintains that it was the right decision: “I still think that was the right decision. The economy made it happen and we took it forward in the right way.”
But he struck a more balanced tone about other areas where he does feel the Blair government should have done more to mitigate the effects of globalisation in parts of the UK.
“As a result of the failure of governments like mine to address the problems that people were concerned about –immigration, tax and spend, welfare reform – people felt their voices were no heard, and they gradually ended up feeling like populist answers were the right answers.”
Have a watch – apologies for the background noise, it got windy!