Could this perhaps be the beginning of the rehabilitation of Tony Blair following the disastrous invasion of Iraq and its hideous aftermath? At Open Britain earlier this morning the former PM used his formidable oratorical skills to call upon those who oppose Brexit to rise up and convince those who voted for Brexit about the merits of remaining in the EU.
He made a number of telling points. He pointed out how the PM Theresa May and the Chancellor Phillip Hammond:
“…were telling us that leaving would be bad for the country, its economy, its security and its place in the world. Today it is apparently a ‘once in a generation opportunity’ for greatness. 7 months ago, AFTER the referendum result, the Chancellor was telling us that leaving the Single Market would be – and I quote – ‘catastrophic’. Now it appears we will leave the Single Market and the Customs Union and he is very optimistic.”
Blair correctly identified immigration as “the issue” which most persuaded those who voted for Brexit. However, the facts regarding immigration did not support a case for leaving the EU:
“Net immigration into the UK was roughly 335,000 in the year to June 2016.
But just over half was from outside the EU…And 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.”
As for those immigrants from the EU:
“Future historians will be scurrying to investigate the antecedents of these migrants from Europe for whose restraint, we were willing to sacrifice so much.
What will they find – that they were a terrible group of people who threatened the country’s stability? They will find that on the whole they were well behaved, worked hard, paid their taxes and were a net economic benefit.”
He ended his speech with a rousing call for those who want to remain in the EU to stand up and work with others to persuade those who voted for Brexit to change their minds.
“The one incontrovertible characteristic of politics today is its propensity for revolt.
The Brexiteers were the beneficiaries of this wave; now they want to freeze it to a day in June 2016.
They will say the will of the people can’t alter. It can.
They will say Leaving is inevitable. It isn’t.
They will say we don’t represent the people. We do, many millions of them and with determination many millions more.
They will claim we’re dividing the country by making the case. It is they who divide our country – generation from generation, North from South, Scotland from England, those born here from those who came to our country precisely because of what they thought it stood for and what they admired.
This is not the time for retreat, indifference or despair; but the time to rise up in defence of what we believe – calmly, patiently, winning the argument by the force of argument; but without fear and with the conviction we act in the true interests of Britain.”
It was good to see this version of Tony Blair back again. It reminded me of the 1997 Blair who was voted in to power offering hope of progressive politics following 18 years of Tory rule. It is a tragedy that the current Labour team is unable to perform its duty as an effective opposition to the current government. If they continue to be unable to break through and win the centre ground, there will remain a massive gap just waiting to be filled. Blair could yet redeem himself of the disaster of Iraq.