Calling ‘the pain large, the gain illusory,’ the former PM’s last-ditch effort to undo Brexit
Tony Blair has just given Britain another chance. Speaking at an Open Britain event in central London February 17, he announced a coordinated campaign to inform the British public of what leaving the European Union would really mean for them as individuals and for the country.
“The people voted without knowledge of the terms of Brexit,” he said. “As these terms become clear, it is their right to change their mind.”
It is a brave thing to do. Once wildly popular, Blair has never been forgiven for supporting the American invasion of Iraq, which cost 500 British lives, and his Brexit rethink has already brought the predictable venom from his political enemies.
But Blair is a brilliant and eloquent politician, and still unequaled in his ability to command the public ear. We should be grateful for his thick skin. (Asked to comment on the accusation that he was “delusional,” he responded: “Why don’t they just say they disagree with me?”)
Blair delights in pointing out the government’s contradictions, how a year ago both PM and Chancellor said leaving the EU would be bad for Britain, its economy, its security and its place in the world. “Today it is apparently a ‘once in a generation opportunity’ for greatness.” In a disturbing parallel to the hypocrisies in Washington, he points out that the original promise to make capitalism fairer is being replaced with threats to Europe of “a low-tax, light-regulation economy,” unlikely to deliver for the working classes.
As was painfully clear at the time, the fabric of the Brexit case unraveled within hours of the vote, the campaign’s misrepresentations were exposed and its leaders resigned. Even on immigration, where the government now admits that only 12 percent of the total would be affected.
But that’s just the beginning, as the costs and overwhelming difficulties of disentangling emerge – the Single Market, the customs union and the over 50 preferential trade agreements that come with EU membership, all of which add up to two thirds of total U.K. trade. Brexit is a decision that gives birth to hundreds, if not thousands, more decisions, every one of huge consequence. Existing contractual obligations alone are estimated at €75 billion.
“The surreal nature of the exercise is enhanced by the curious absence of a big argument as to why this continues to be a good idea,” Blair said. It’s “a call to arms,” wrote the BBC’s Tom Bateman. “Tony Blair’s Brexit insurrection.”
Finally! – the conversation we’ve been waiting for. With Labour in disarray and Parliament a mush of indecision, Blair and his group are stepping into a vacuum.
“I don’t know if we will succeed, but I do know we will suffer a rancorous verdict from future generations if we do not try.”
Yes, Tony. I just hope it’s not too late.