Friday, February 17, 2017

Welcome back Tony Blair and his leadership on Europe

I want to be explicit. 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. 
Our challenge is 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; and to build support for finding a way out from the present rush over the cliff’s edge. 
I don't know if we can succeed. But I do know we will suffer a rancorous verdict from future generations if we do not try.
You can read the full text of the former prime minister's speech this morning on the rather grandly named Office of Tony Blair website.

This part is good too:
If we were in a rational world, we would all the time, as we approach those decisions, be asking: why are we doing this and as we know more of the costs, is the pain worth the gain? 
Let us examine the pain. 
We will withdraw from the Single Market which is around half of our trade in goods and services. We will also leave the Customs Union, covering trade with countries like Turkey. Then we need to replace over 50 Preferential Trade Agreements we have via our membership of the EU; for instance with Switzerland. So, EU-related trade is actually two thirds of the UK total. This impacts everything from airline travel, to financial services to manufacturing industry, sector by sector. 
We will pay for previous EU obligations but not benefit from future opportunities, with figures as high as £60bn as the cost. 
We will lose influence in the world’s most significant political union; and have to negotiate on our own on issues like the environment where we presently benefit from Europe’s collective strength. 
There is alarm across sectors as diverse as scientific research and culture as European funding is withdrawn. 
And all this then to do an intricate re-negotiation of the trading arrangements we have just abandoned. 
That negotiation is without precedent in complexity. It is even possible that it fails and we end up trading on WTO rules. 
This is in itself another mine field: we would need to negotiate the removal not just of tariff barriers; but the prevention of non-tariff barriers which today are often the biggest impediments to trade and pile costs on business. 
This could take years. 
Our currency is down around 12% against the Euro and 20% against the dollar, which is the international financial market’s assessment of our future prosperity i.e. we are going to be poorer. The price of imported goods in the supermarkets is up and thus the cost of living. 
Of course Britain can and would survive out of the EU. This is a great country, with resilient and creative people. And yes, no one is going to write us off, nor should they. But making the best of a bad job doesn't alter the fact that it isn't smart to put yourself in that position unless you have to. 
Most extraordinary of all, the two great achievements of British diplomacy of the last decades in Europe, supported by Governments both Labour and Conservative, – namely the Single Market and European Enlargement – are now apparently the two things we most regret and want to rid ourselves of! 
The Single Market has been of enormous benefit to the UK bringing billions of pounds of wealth, hundreds of thousands of jobs, and major investment opportunities; our trade with an enlarged European Union has meant for example that trade with Poland has gone from £3bn in 2004 to £13.5bn in 2016. 
Nations that came out of the Soviet bloc have seen themselves safely within the EU and NATO, so enhancing our own security. 
In addition to all this, the possibility of the break-up of the UK – narrowly avoided by the result of the Scottish referendum – is now back on the table, but this time with a context much more credible for the independence case. 
We are already seeing the destabilising impact of negotiation over border arrangements on the Northern Ireland peace process.
I have quoted at such length because the speech is good - very good indeed - and no one else has made the case against Brexit with such authority.

Because of it, I welcome Tony Blair's welcome to British politics.

And that is from someone who spent 13 years poking fun at the more absurd elements of Blairism. But things are more serious now.

When I tweeted praise for the speech earlier today I immediately received a reply mentioning Iraq.

Those who shout "Iraq" whenever Blair is mentioned may act from a concern for the sufferings of the Iraqi people,

But they may also be using it as a tactic - as a way of labelling Blair that means we need not listen to anything he says.

We Liberal Democrats suffered the cry of "tuition fees" for long enough to understand this.

And many white and well-heeled members of the left are keen to label other white and well-heeled members of the left as racist or insufficiently respectful of the working class as a way of shutting them up.

Things are too serious for Britain now for us to silence a voice we need to hear.

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