Brexit has the potential to be an economic and political catastrophe for the UK and Ireland unless people are educated about just what the Single Market is, former PM Tony Blair tells Irish World editor Bernard Purcell ten years after he left power.
Ten years ago last week the Labour Party’s most electorally successful leader, Tony Blair, stood down after a decade in Downing Street and having led his party back in from the wilderness to win three successive General Elections.
He was still just 54 at the time. Last month his successor, three times removed, 68-year old Jeremy Corbyn led Labour to the party’s third election defeat in seven years but a combination of an inept Tory campaign and adroit management of expectations it was hailed by his supporters as an historic “victory” – and a “crushing repudiation” of the “neoliberal” policies of Tony Blair and Gordon Brown.
Nevertheless, his 32-seat gain to a total of 262 still left Labour trailing significantly behind the Tories’ 318 even if that was not enough to give Theresa May’s party a working majority in the Commons. It is Labour’s ambivalence on what he sees as the defining political question of our age – for the UK and Ireland.
ON THE LABOUR PARTY AND BREXIT
Q: Isn’t the Labour Party’s own position on Brexit, and its support for Article 50 in the commons earlier this year, only facilitating Theresa May’s government rather than holding it to account?
“That’s maybe harsh on the Labour Party, I think there is a majority in the Labour Party for staying in the Single Market. “In fact, there’s probably a majority in the Labour Party for staying in the European Union.
“The Labour Party’s very tepid position in the Brexit campaign WAS a facilitator for Brexit.
“I do think that what is both politically sensible and in principle correct is that the Labour Party now makes it clear, if the government’s not prepared to do so, then that the Labour Party is prepared to engage in this genuine debate and educative process with the British people and say ‘Look, this is why leaving the Single Market is going to be damaging.
“The moment you decide leaving the single market is a bad idea therefore you want to stay then, frankly, it becomes very difficult to see what the point was of leaving the European Union – and that’s really why people hesitate.
“The reason why people hesitate is because common sense is you either leave the Single Market, in which case the damage is quite substantial, or you stay in in and the damage is not so substantial but it does leave you wondering what’s the point of leaving.
ON ANTI-EUROPEAN SENTIMENT IN UK MEDIA
“This is where we (in the UK) really bear the scars of what I’d call the right-wing media cartel because the people who control it, and it’s a handful of individuals, are just so vociferously anti-Europe despite the fact that many of them have very loose connections with this country.
“That has been a massive driver of this state of public opinion. If you’re told literally day in, day out, that Europe is something done to us, not something we’re part of and that what is done to us is basically trying all the time to damage us, or take us over, then you do create that mentality.
“The thing that is so weird is, you know I was Prime Minister for ten years, outside of things specifically to do with Europe I literally cannot think of a big decision that I took or wanted to take that Europe was telling me I had to take it or I couldn’t take it.
“If you look at the Queen’s Speech and you take out Brexit what is there in any of the things the government wants to do, take the Budget Statement last November, tell me any of the things the government wants to do but can’t do because of Europe.
“We have surrounded ourselves with this mythology that every corner of our lives is taken over by the bureaucracy of Brussels which is not true, there is literally nothing we would want to do in relation to our pensions, healthcare system, education system, welfare system, most of our tax system, that we can’t do so.
“The reason people have felt like this is the end product of thirty years of propaganda.”