Tony Blair today implored European leaders to reform the EU in a bid to persuade British people to change their mind on Brexit.
Speaking at the European Policy Centre on Thursday (1 March), the former UK Prime Minister warned that Britain’s impending departure from the EU would weaken both parties.
“Brexit is momentous and life changing for Britain. Britain without Europe will lose weight in the world, for sure. Europe will be smaller and diminished without Britain, for sure.”
But Blair insisted that Brexit should not be viewed as a fait accompli.
“Reform in Europe is key to getting Britain to change its mind,” he said.
“If Europe was to offer a parallel path of Britain in a reforming Europe…in these times of politics anything can happen. It doesn’t take a miracle it takes leadership.”
That would include ‘comprehensive’ reforms to immigration rules across the bloc, he said. Ironically, changes to the rights of EU migrants was one of the measures sought by former Prime Minister David Cameron in his ill-fated attempt to renegotiate Britain’s EU membership terms ahead of the June 2016 referendum.
Blair, who is campaigning for a second referendum on the final terms of Brexit, added that he would “campaign passionately for British people to have a final say.”
The European Commission’s draft withdrawal treaty, published on Wednesday (28 February) prompted a swift backlash from Theresa May, particularly its draft protocol on Northern Ireland, which proposes that Ulster remain part of the EU’s customs union on goods if no alternative agreement can be found.
“There is no answer to the Irish dilemma…it’s a metaphor for the entire process,” said Blair.
“The argument in Britain is now in flux. At some point this year, the government will have to put a vote to Parliament and win it. That will be harder than is thought because this cake is quite resistant to fudge.”
In a speech that focused primarily on the economic and security challenges that Europe would face in the coming years, Blair warned that losing the UK from the EU would have a “deleterious” effect on the bloc’s geopolitical and economic influence.
By 2030, the economies of India and China would rapidly overtake Europe, he said.
“With this economic change will come political change. The west will no longer dominate. Europe will have to protect its interests…and for Europe much more is at stake than trade and commerce”.
Blair left elected politics when he resigned as Prime Minister in 2007, but has since been repeatedly touted for an EU job, being considered for the Presidency of the European Council in both 2009 and 2014. However, the legacy of the Iraq war, and his post-premiership business career, have tarnished his public reputation at home.
In a reference to plans by French President Emmanuel Macron to organise a series of ‘citizens’ dialogues’ across Europe, Blair commented that “these will not work if they are about explaining to Europeans why their fears are misplaced, many feel that the European project is too much about advancing institutions.”
“The anxieties that led to the Brexit vote are not unique to the British,” arguing that referendums on EU membership in other countries might have had the same result.
Blair’s speech also marked the second anti-Brexit speech by a former UK Prime Minister in as many days. On Wednesday, Blair’s predecessor, Conservative premier John Major, called for a second referendum, warning that there would be a “terrible public backlash” if the UK was left poorer and weaker after leaving the EU.
However, the two speeches have swiftly prompted a furious reaction from Brexiteers.
“Former prime ministers who no longer believe in our great nation are engaged in a desperate last ditch attempt to defy the largest democratic mandate ever in the UK,” said Richard Tice of Leave Means Leave, which is campaigning for a ‘hard Brexit’.