Tony Blair’s War on Brexit
In an article and interview released today, former Prime Minister Tony Blair said that Labour should challenge Brexit and oppose the government.
In his article published on his website, Tony Blair: Institute for Global Change, Blair reiterated his desire for Britain to remain within the European Union, by saying: “I believe passionately that by exiting the powerful regional bloc of countries on our doorstep, to whom we are linked physically by the Channel Tunnel, commercially by the Single Market, historically by myriad ancient ties of culture and civilisation, and politically by the necessity of alliance in an era which will be dominated by the USA in the West and China and India in the East, we are making an error the contemporary world cannot understand and the generations of the future will not forgive.”
Although, he explained that no one, including himself, disputes the Brexit referendum result, the issue is not to reverse the decision, but to have “the right to change our minds once we see the terms of the new relationship.” Blair defends the right of people to make informed decisions, even if this means that one’s perception of Brexit has changed to coincide with political developments. As he clarified: “When we voted in 2016, we knew we were voting against our present membership of the European Union, but not what the future relationship with Europe would be.”
Brexit landscape is being “illuminated”
Blair explained that now, the Brexit landscape has been illuminated and we know more about the current and future financial situation. With the Budget prediction about economic growth slowing down and averaging 1.5% for the next five years as a result of Brexit, a weak currency, fall in employment and a squeeze in living standards, Blair highlighted the negative signs of a struggling economy. In addition to this, the UK will have less money to spend on the NHS and more money going out into the European budget.
Blair’s answer to the Brexit negotiations
Blair said that the UK has 4 options when approaching the Brexit negotiations. One is to re-consider and stay within a reformed Europe. The second is to exit those European structures relating to politics and keep the economic ones, such as access to the single market and customs union. The third option is to leave the EU completely, but negotiate a bespoke deal which recreates the existing economic privileges and keeps the UK as close as possible to the EU. The fourth and last option, is to leave the EU but negotiate a basic Free Trade Agreement. While the last three options are Brexit, Blair says that they are very different and with different outcomes.
For Blair, the worst outcome is something between option three and four, trying to leave without really leaving, having lost “our seat at the table of rule-making.” And this, “would be a grim outcome for the country.”
Blair’s prediction about the government’s possible agreement
Blair predicts that the government will try and negotiate a tariff free access for goods (non-tariff issues to be discussed later), but without access for services, which have driven our export growth the last 20 years. He believes that such an unclear agreement, that leaves a lot to be negotiated after March 2019, will be presented as a deal or no deal, with Labour “arguing that they would be better negotiators. This isn’t credible.”
Labour party challenge
He disagrees with Labour’s position on Brexit and said that he would like Labour to be “on the high ground of progressive politics” while stressing the political and economic importance of an EU membership. For him, the best way to fight is to take the opposite stance to the government and “demand that we know the full details of the new relationship before we quit the old one.” Blair points out that Labour should oppose Brexit and make it the “Tory Brexit. Make them own it 100%. Show people why Brexit isn’t and never was the answer.”
But Blair’s opposition to Brexit has been criticised as “elitist,” and in his interview on BBC Radio 4’s Today programme, the interviewer John Humphrys, quoted a shadow minister who described Blair’s intervention as “utterly unhelpful” and that his article would give the impression to voters that “the metropolitan elite [is] ignoring them.”
As he mentioned in both his article and interview, Blair is not against the referendum result, but rather the offering of a bad Brexit deal to people without the right to choose. And this is what makes Labour’s position more crucial for him: to be able to oppose Brexit and not just be forced in the end to endorse a no-deal scenario, becoming in the process “the handmaiden of Brexit.”