Blair on Brexit

As he hinted he might some months ago, Tony Blair has stepped into the Brexit debate with a major speech outlining not just the case against Brexit, but also the case for a democratic reversal of the referendum decision.

It’s a hell of a speech, if not without its flaws. UK opinion is, at best, divided about the man but his one consistent character trait is belief that you win in politics by persuading people to change their mind in your favour: “winning the argument from the force of the argument,” as he says in the speech. As such, he lays out a very thorough case not against Brexit in general but against the particular course that the government is following. You can read it in full here; some excerpts below include:

This is the first serious, coherent anti-Brexit speech I’ve seen in a long, long time. It talks about the downsides without threatening an immediate recession and emergency budget; it challenges the rhetoric of Leave; it shows the positive arguments for being in the EU; it lays out an intelligent case in clear language; above all, it’s a speech that believes in itself and doesn’t apologise for having a point of view people might disagree with.

However, good though the speech is, it’s got a fatal problem: it’s been delivered by Tony Blair. I don’t think he realises just how far his star has fallen with the average voter. Even discounting Iraq, he is now the epitome of the “global liberal elite” which was so successfully painted as the root of ordinary people’s problems in the referendum campaign. He just doesn’t have the sympathy of the audience any more, not even from the pro-Remain left. This is a crying shame because I think he makes two fundamental points that deserve to be heard:

  1. As we learn more about the specific details of what Brexit will mean in practical terms, it will be entirely fair to ask ourselves if this is what we really want.
  2. Continuing to argue for what you believe in order to persuade people who disagree with you is what democracy is all about.

Knew I’d seen a stat somewhere: According to YouGov, Blair’s net favourability rating is -60 which is worse than Corbyn. Just the wrong guy for the job.

Maybe I missed it but he’s taking a very short-term view. Many of those to whom I spoke who voted for Brexit said that they expected a short-term hit on the economy and a longer-term gain.

And he tries to change the argument right from the start:

Sorry, but it was clear at the time that there were no plans.

Spot on.

Not really: this is the point of Parliament having a vote.

Yes, and shows the importance of not shutting down a debate just because you disagree or dislike.

Quartz, I don’t understand what you mean when you say that there were no plans. Obviously there were no specific plans on the ballot paper, but equally obviously there **will **be a specific plan once Article 50 negotiations are complete - that’s the whole point of the negotiations. Britain and the EU will agree that: Britain owes £x billion, not £y billion towards its existing financial commitments; the rights of EU citizens in the UK/UK citizens in the EU will be such-and-such not so-and-so; immigration will work like this, not like that; transition will involve *these *tariffs but not *those *ones, *this *customs schedule but not that; the UK will access the single market on *these *terms but not *those *ones.

That deal will be the plan for Brexit. And there will be a deal. There cannot be null values against all these variables. No-one - including Parliament - can say now whether that deal is good for Britain because it doesn’t exist yet. But once it does exist, the people of Britain will have a collective opinion on whether it’s a good deal or not.

Should that opinion be listened to? If the opinion is that it is a bad deal, what should happen next?

ISTM that this is like someone laying out a clear, coherent argument as to why electing Trump was the wrong decision. It’s a very logical, reasonable case - except that, what kind of precedent would be set by that?

It’s laying out a very reasonable case for something that cannot nor should be done.

I don’t follow I’m afraid - what cannot nor should not be done?

If you mean revoking Article 50, I don’t agree - if (and it’s a big if) the will of the people is that whatever deal we eventually get sucks so much we’d be better off staying in Europe, then revoking Article 50 is exactly what should be done. There are very real questions about whether that is even possible, but in principle the will of the people should prevail.

Blair is still a magnificent communicator, but it is rather easy to dismiss him on the European issue. Had Blair had his way Britain would be stuck in the European single currency right now. He talks a good game, he really does, but his own instincts on Britain’s relationship with Europe suggest his vision thing on the EU is fundamentally wrong.

I mean simply that. At the time of the referendum there were no plans for how to effect Brexit.

Exactly. No-one in Government had seriously considered the possibility of losing the referendum, so no real plans were made for what would happen then.

Well yes. But so what? There has to be a plan. Even “crash out and revert to WTO rules” is a plan. People will have an opinion on the plan, once it’s made. That opinion matters. It matters as much, or probably even more than, the general intention to leave the EU under some plan or other. So there should be a democratic decision about it. Right?

It goes further than that: those voting for Brexit knew and accepted that those proposing Brexit did not have a plan.

Am I the only one on here to see the referendum result as a bargaining chip in a redefined relationship, and hopefully a redefined union?

Brexit/remain/hard/soft, etc,etc - seems so much smoke and mirrors; the central issue is German intransigence on free movement because it suits the German economy - this isn’t some liberal wank fantasy about being nice.

And frankly, while I on it, the whole point of the EU and Euro is to benefit the German economy - currently booming at record rates and sucking in 1m immigrants to sustain it, while Greece and Spain burn.

And fuck Blair.

I live in London, it overwhelmingly voted Remain.
There is a general sense of annoyance that Blair spoke up.
I don’t think outside the U.K. really understand how much that man is hated here.
My Polish neighbour told me that he feels that the Brexiteers must have peed their pants in glee when Blair spoke up for Remain.
He is literally the worst person at the moment to have on your side.
He would have done more for Remain if he had pretended to be pro Brexit.

Cite please.

Apart, of course, from being able to divert £350 million a week to the NHS, stop immigration, ignore any inconvenient regulations, and all the rest of it. They may not have had a plan, but they had plenty of promises.

There is a real difference between being in the customs union and out of it, between having financial passporting and not, between sharing a regulatory framework and not, between paying £60bn for our ongoing commitments and paying £10bn. This isn’t smoke and mirrors, this is hard practicalities.

And my liberal wank fantasy isn’t about being nice* - it’s about having an economic policy that “suits the economy”. If you think austerity is bad now, wait until we’ve got three times as many pensioners as tax payers and see what happens to public services.
*It’s also about Tony Blair looking deep into my eyes and saying “Look, I’m a pretty straight sort of guy” but we’ve all got our little peccadilloes.

WTF are you talking about. No, it isn’t a question.

I’m glad to see some realism about the purpose of immigration. We need only look to Japan for the economic and social future if the country doesn’t address the declining birth rate/aging population dynamic.

Of course, some might argue endless growth is not a solution either - where does that ultimately end. But it is at least acknowledging the great challenge that faces all industrialised nations, which is currently being answered by unsustainable, undesirable even, growth

Sure: the result.

As I’m sure you’re aware, before the referendum, there was no one Plan (compare with the Scottish independence referendum).

The plan is to trigger the legal process and negotiate an exit. Is that overly complicated, or do you think leaving the EU is like organising a day trip to Calais?