Former PM wants Remainers to 'rise up' against Brexit
Tony Blair has launched a scathing attack on both the government and the Labour leadership, accusing them of allowing ‘Brexit at any cost’.
In a hard-hitting speech in London, the former prime minister insisted that the actions of Theresa May and her government show that they ‘are not masters of this situation’.
“They’re not driving this bus. They’re being driven. And as we pass each milestone so the landscape in which we are operating changes, not because we have willed the change, but because this is the direction in which the bus is travelling. We will trigger Article 50 not because we now know our destination, but because the politics of not doing so, would alienate those driving the bus.
Blair also made damning comments about Labour under Jeremy Corbyn’s leadership, which last week voted to trigger Article 50 despite failing to attach any amendments to the government’s bill.
Tony Blair blames the Labour Party for being the “facilitator” of Brexit pic.twitter.com/kkqkhsnRHu
— Sky News (@SkyNews) February 17, 2017
He said a major challenge in containing the impact of the referendum was ‘the absence of an opposition which looks capable on the polls of beating the government.”
“The debilitation of the Labour Party is the facilitator of Brexit. I hate to say that, but it is true.”
The speech has been controversial. Leavers accuse Blair of contempt for democracy, and even among those who share his views many argue that Blair — a tainted figure in so many ways — will do more harm that good by intervening.
He has also been criticsed for the comments on immigration included in the speech, which seem to defend the rights of EU migrants at the expense of those from other parts of the world. Blair claimed that:
“…for many people, the core immigration question – and one which I fully accept is a substantial issue -is immigration from non-European countries, especially when from different cultures in which assimilation and potential security threats can be an issue.”
However, the former Labour leader remains a powerful orator and dismantled the arguments of prominent Leavers with remarkable clarity.
“Many of the main themes of the Brexit campaign barely survived the first weekend after the vote. Remember the £350m a week extra for the NHS? Virtually the only practical arguments still advanced – under the general rubric of ‘taking back control’ – are immigration and the European Court of Justice.”
He suggested that the actual impact of the ECJ on Britain is minimal, insisting that in his decade as prime minister, there was ‘no major domestic law that I wanted to pass which Europe told me I couldn’t.’
Ultimately, Blair’s goal is to persuade voters that Brexit is a bad idea and force a reversal of the decision, a fantasy most Remainers have already dispensed with.
That Blair clings to it is a reminder of his extraordinary self-belief, both his greatest strength and greatest weakness as a leader.
Niamh Ní Mhaoileoin is editor of Left Foot Forward. Follow her on TwitterLike this article? Sign up to Left Foot Forward's weekday email for the latest progressive news and comment - and support campaigning journalism by making a donation today.