Brexit followed by Corbyn in No 10 would put UK flat on its back: Tony Blair
Tony Blair said an “unchanged Corbyn programme” introduced at the same time as Brexit would prove disastrous for the country.world Updated: Jul 15, 2017 17:06 IST
Tony Blair has warned that the combination of Brexit followed by a Jeremy Corbyn government would soon leave Britain “flat on our back”, arguing that a deeply divided country needs a fundamental rethink of its political ideas.
In another demonstration of his partial return to domestic politics, the former prime minister praised Corbyn’s performance in the general election, but argued that greater scrutiny of the Labour leader’s policies could derail the next campaign. In a lengthy article released by his own political institute , the Tony Blair Institute for Global Change, Blair said an “unchanged Corbyn programme” introduced at the same time as Brexit would prove disastrous for the country.
“If a rightwing populist punch in the form of Brexit was followed by a leftwing populist punch in the form of unreconstructed hard-left economics, Britain would hit the canvas, flat on our back and be out for a long count,” he wrote.
Blair warned the party he led for 13 years that, however unexpectedly good the party’s showing in the 8 June election, it could not automatically expect victory soon. “The Labour party should be cautious in thinking ‘one more heave’ will deliver victory next time,” Blair said. “The Corbyn campaign was a positive factor in the election result; but the determining factor was the Tory campaign.
“The Corbyn enthusiasm, especially amongst the young, is real, but I would hesitate before saying that all those who voted Labour voted to make him prime minister, or that they supported the body of the programme rather than its tone. I think they thought that the likelihood was that the Tories would be the government, but were determined to neuter the mandate.”
In the next election, Labour’s economic policies “will come under vastly greater scrutiny”, Blair warned. However, he conceded he “did not foresee” the Labour gains made in the election, and hailed Corbyn’s role in this.
“I pay tribute to Jeremy Corbyn’s temperament in the campaign, to the campaign’s mobilisation of younger voters, and to the enthusiasm it generated,” he said. “His supporters shouldn’t exaggerate it; but his critics, including me, shouldn’t understate it. He tapped into something real and powerful, as Bernie Sanders has in the USA and left groups have done all over Europe.”
Much of the article concerned Blair’s continued opposition to Brexit, which he has previously called on remain-minded voters to seek to overturn.
He said the British people should be made aware of the possibility of Europe meeting the UK “half way” on a range of issues, predicting that Europe “will comprise an inner and outer circle” in the coming years.
The former prime minister claimed that if the UK didn’t abandon the single market, European leaders would be willing to relax their stance on freedom of movement – one of the central principles of single market membership – and let Britain have control.
Blair said political changes on the continent, including the election of Emmanuel Macron in France, have made an alternative to a hard Brexit more likely. Macron’s victory “changes the political dynamics of Europe”.
“Reform is now on Europe’s agenda,” he said. “The European leaders, certainly from my discussions, are willing to consider changes to accommodate Britain, including around freedom of movement.”
Along with the comments, Blair’s institute has released polling conducted on its behalf which shows, among other findings, that the majority of Britons are split on whether they would like a so-called soft or hard Brexit. “The British people’s attitude to Europe is ambivalent,” Blair said. “They do think Brexit means Brexit and, for now, there is no groundswell for a second referendum.
“But they want a strong relationship with Europe. A majority oppose hard Brexit. The opposition to free movement of people, once you break it down, is much more nuanced.”
Overall, he concludes, the UK “is deeply divided – between young and old, metropolitan and outside the cities, better off and worse off”.