CLASH OF COMMENTS: Should former Prime Ministers speak out over Brexit?

Image: Marc Muller

YES – Connor Drake

So, as we all know Theresa May’s government seems hell-bent on taking the country out of the European Union and all of its bells and whistles. “Oh, god, you’re not discussing that B word again?” You may ask. Well, not that one, but one with almost as many letters.

Former Prime Minister John Major weighed in last week, claiming that Brexit is being mismanaged. However a more recent former PM’s comments have garnered more attention. Tony Blair has attempted to intervene in the situation by implying that the public were misled, saying: “the people voted without knowledge of the true terms of Brexit. As these terms become clear, it is their right to change their mind”, before declaring his mission, which is to change people’s minds.

Blair’s intervention is one which people on both the left and right may be quick to shout down as being rich or hypocritical, using the Iraq War as an example of how Tony Blair led the country into an illegal war. Some detractors would even go as far as to call him irrelevant, however his supporters still herald him as a man who should be listened to, especially after winning three elections.

I would argue that Blair has a substantial point when saying the public were misled when voting in the referendum. This is an opinion shared by many, both inside and outside of the Labour Party, with the Big Red Bus on which the promise of £350m for the NHS was plastered (which no Vote Leave official seems to remember or acknowledge, funnily
enough…), the accession of Turkey to the EU the day after Brexit, and sharp falls in immigration all being promises and predictions made by those on the Leave side, all of which are yet to come to fruition, and some of which never will.

So Blair seems right, but should he have piped up? As I mentioned, people are always really quick to jump on him when he comments on near enough anything, almost using the Iraq War in particular as a stick to beat him and New Labour with, but is this fair? Yes, the legality of the war, the circumstances under which it was voted for, and the element of public opposition to it are all very valid reasons to view Blair unfavourably; some people also go as far as to say Parliament was misled by Blair himself, which would seem to warrant claims of hypocrisy levelled at Blair, however, the report of the Chilcot Inquiry didn’t conclusively find that he had lied to Parliament.

It is also possible to see the Iraq War and its impacts as a source of deep regret for Blair, with him expressing deep sorrow at the situation. When these facts are all taken into account, it seems quite unfair to carry on repeatedly mentioning this every time he has
something to say.

One could argue that Blair’s interventions are not instances of hypocrisy, but in fact him showing a great deal of hindsight, whether or not you believe he misled Parliament. Brexit and the Iraq War are perhaps two of the biggest national events from the past two decades,
and what if, just maybe, Blair has learnt not to rush into things that could be damaging to the country? And anyway, what does Iraq have to do with his opinions on Brexit?


NO – Finn Judge

Make no mistake: I am a Blairite. I’m all for the third way, I believe the British centre ground has truly caved in at the expense of progress, and some would even call me a Eurofederalist.

But those talking points are no longer winning arguments. Increasingly, British politics has become defined by a deepening chasm between a radical left and the authoritarian right. With the Liberal Democrats all but invisible, and Blair’s legacy forever tarnished by a disastrous war, the battle against Brexit cannot be won by yesterday’ ideologies – the very members of which have been swallowed up by the gap in our politics.

Of course, this is by no means an ideal state for our democracy, but who on Earth thought it would be a good idea to bridge this gap with the very bridge that was so passionately burned by Joe Public post-2008? It’s a charred, unwalkable path, and the only way Brexit can be fought off is by surmounting an energised, effective opposition that can persuade the would-be swing voters in a second referendum. Everything Blair represents is what people voted against in June 2016. People are fed up of establishment politicians, high and
mighty in their perceived ivory towers in Islington, imposing bureaucracy that cast away those left behind in the name of an out-of reach, new European order. Nobody was a greater Europhile than Anthony Charles Lynton Blair; while I’d gladly defend his legacy in supporting the working classes which so heavily voted Leave, but statecraft is all that matters now. Such is the reality of post-truth politics.

Three elections won, I hear you say? Hardly relevant now. Politics is about occupying whichever centre ground is apparent at the time, as the Overton window swings back and forth throughout the decades. I cannot stress how profoundly it has now swung away from Blairism and the entire New Labour project. Through genius realpolitik, the Tories have given the devil a four-letter name. So therein, perhaps, lies an alternative solution: the return of Major? Not a chance. His wet Toryism represents everything Cameron stood for (even he had the wisdom of resigning his seat so as not to be seen to be sniping at May), and the demise of last year’s government was an emphatic realignment with the newly expressed electorate. Rather than harking back to the days these individuals were not represented, it ought to be the job of every Remainer to make the case for them to change
their mind.

Of course, this is exactly the project Mr Blair is planning to embark upon. However, to uphold a former Prime Minister as the new voice of the people is to imply that British politics is stagnant – that, somehow, the events of the past
decade can be swung back and wiped away.

We are at a massive turning point in our political history: say what you will about 2016, but tomorrow’s historians will attach significance to the year not just because of the electoral verdicts, but rather the deeper causes and implications which cannot, under
any circumstance whatsoever, be ignored.