Tony Blair gave an excellent speech last week in which he laid out clearly the reasons why Brexit will be an absolute catastrophe for the British economy and called for people to rise up to stop it happening.
This has led members of several online pro-Remain groups to accept and promote him as leader of the campaign. They have argued that despite his lack of popularity on the left, he was a popular Prime Minister who is associated with a happier and more stable time in national life and is also able to make a coherent and convincing case that Britain should not jump off the cliff into economic oblivion, as Theresa May is proposing.
Here’s an alternative point of view. It’s not an opinion I share; I think that on this issue Blair is right and that Brexit will be an absolute disaster (although not as much as a catastrophe for the UK as his war was for Iraq). Nevertheless this is the narrative that will dominate the debate should Blair continue to play a prominent role in the anti-Brexit campaign:
In 2003 we, the British people, made our will absolutely clear. We marched in our millions against Blair’s proposal that we participate in an illegal war in Iraq. We made abundantly clear that we saw through the dodgy dossier and the machinations of the government spin doctors. We rose up throughout the country to say very clearly: no. We don’t believe you and we don’t want your war.
In 2016 we, the British people, took part in a referendum over our continued membership of the European Union. The outcome was tight, but clear: the will of the British people is that Britain must leave the EU.
In both cases an out-of-touch and arrogant political elite with no respect for democracy has sought to deny the will of the British people. The first time they were successful. As a consequence, the Middle East was plunged into an abyss of violence which led directly to the refugee crisis and the rise of Isis. We sacrificed the lives of thousands of our own soldiers. We saw bombs on the London tube and bullets on the streets of Paris and Brussels. All because our leaders refused to listen to our voice.
Now Tony Blair, whose lies led us to this point, tells us we should rise up. Against whom? Against ourselves. Against our own will, as expressed peacefully at the ballot box. We are told warned of disaster by a man who we know for certain we cannot, must not trust ever again.
This is a sovereign and democratic country. We have to respect the will of the people, and that means we should have nothing but contempt for leaders who flout it and do not lead the country but instead seek continually to mislead it.
As I say, I don’t share this perspective. Should Blair continue to be associated with the pro-EU forces, however, and if his arguments start to have an impact, it will be the line pushed by Nigel Farage, who has spoken out several times against Blair’s war, and the central point hammered home by the Tory Party and their newspapers. After all, we have a wilfully amnesiac media which will happily let those members of the current Government who supported the war off the hook. The current impasse with regard to Brexit, in which no one who understands it is seriously in favour – and I would put Theresa May in that category, notwithstanding her inopportune political ambitions – is thus partly a consequence of the war in Iraq. Many who voted to leave will have had that historic insult to democracy foremost in their minds.
The above argument must also be a factor in Jeremy Corbyn’s conservative strategy with regard to Brexit. He knows that Labour is connected in the public mind with a lack of concern for the national mood, and therefore has made no attempt to shift it. His lack of leadership acumen has been made very apparent. He could, last June, have rejected the terms and conduct of the referendum in the first place and attempted to use his principled leadership – recalling explicitly his opposition to the war – to lead the country in a different direction. It’s also shameful that he’s not open to the kinds of suggestions made by Caroline Lucas (that progressive forces should push for a radically different kind of Brexit that prioritises our values). It would be very ironic if one consequence of Corbyn’s failure to provide leadership with regard to Brexit would be his replacement by someone who represents everything that he (supposedly) opposes. And if we know one thing about Blair and the Blairites, it’s that they will seize any opportunity to regain power over The Labour Party.
Instead of letting Blair forward his own agenda, then, those opposed to Britain leaving the EU would be much better advised to look to figures like Caroline Lucas and Nicola Sturgeon to lead the way. Tony Blair must not play any significant role in the campaign. Those of us who both oppose Brexit and marched against the Iraq War cannot allow the Tories and Ukip to get away with using one grievous and obnoxious insult to democracy as a reason for supporting another.