Tony Blair on Friday announced his “mission” to get Brits who voted to remain in the European Union to “rise up in defense of what we believe” while accusing the government of being “obsessed with Brexit” and bemoaning the lack of an effective opposition. In his first major speech since the EU referendum, the former prime minister told an audience in the City of London that people were misinformed when they voted for Brexit and that he wanted to “build support for finding a way out from the present rush over the cliff’s edge.”
Tony Blair has hopped on the EU train just as it is sputtering and threatening to run off the tracks.
This is either a canny move or it is not. It is canny because the EU has few staunch defenders at this point, or certainly few that promise to be as staunch as Blair promises to be.
On the other hand, Blair remains one of the most blackballed men in England. He is blamed for the death of many British servicemen and for lying about it.
He is blamed by conservative individuals and by liberal ones. It is not a matter of party. So even if persists with this latest move, he has no guarantee that people will begin to back him.
No doubt this is one of the reasons that Blair has taken on this opportunity. It is such a big issue that he thinks people may forget about previous issues in order to back him on Brexit.
But he engages such antipathy that it is difficult to believe that too many will come around. In fact the wealth he has gained since leaving office makes things worse, even though he is putting some of it to use in creating the anti-Brexit movement.
I want to be explicit,” he said at an event hosted by Open Britain, a cross-party political group campaigning against a “destructive” Brexit. “Yes, the British people voted to leave Europe. And I agree the will of the people should prevail. I accept right now there is no widespread appetite to re-think.
“But the people voted without knowledge of the true terms of Brexit. As these terms become clear, it is their right to change their mind. Our mission is to persuade them to do so. What was unfortunately only dim in our sight before the referendum is now in plain sight. The road we’re going down is not simply Hard Brexit. It is Brexit At Any Cost.”
He added that the challenge now was “to expose relentlessly what this cost is, to show how the decision was based on imperfect knowledge which will now become informed knowledge, to calculate in ‘easy to understand’ ways how proceeding will cause real damage to our country.”
Blair added that while doesn’t know if Britain will succeed, not trying would gain him and others a rancorous verdict from future generations.
“They will say we don’t represent the people. We do, many millions of them and with determination many millions more.”
But, again, it is quite questionable how many people actually represents. Just because he is getting onboard with an issue that excites strong passions doesn’t mean that people are going to change their minds about him in particular.
Additionally it is not clear who he is going to attract. Some of the people involved have never been pro-Blair, not even when he was in office.
Blair spoke out on behalf of the EU, saying, “during all my time as PM there was no major domestic law that I wanted to pass which Europe told me I couldn’t.”
And he said that Brexit was such a main focus that other issues weren’t getting proper attention. He mentioned the crisis affecting the NHS and challenges to the economy and to the educational system.
Blair believes there are two major challenges when it comes to Brexit. One is the “effective cartel of media on the right” and the other is Labor’s “debilitation.”
His solution is to build a larger movement that reinvigorates Labor while stretching across party lines. His new Tony Blair Institute, will also be European as well, focusing on building up relationships with Europe.
One can see from all this that Blair want to take advantage of Brexit to try to shake the difficulties that overlay his career as a result of warfare abroad. He want to build a new coalition the way he did in the early days of his career with New Labor.
Conclusion: It’s an audacious move. It’s not at all clear whether it will work. Blair won’t be happy just to get the word out. He’ll probably want to be included, front and center. So we’ll soon see how much he has poisoned his public persona. Perhaps too much. Time will tell.