Blair fights back over Brexit

Former prime minister Tony Blair urged opponents of Brexit to rise up. Matthew Partridge reports.


Tony Blair: people are entitled to change their minds
(Image credit: Copyright (c) 2017 Rex Features. No use without permission.)

Last Friday, former prime minister Tony Blair urged opponents of Brexit to "rise up" and "fight to change the British people's minds about leaving the European Union", reports Bloomberg. He also claimed that since "people voted without knowledge of the true terms of Brexit", they are entitled "to change their mind". His tone was "condescending", says The Times. Certainly, "it is legitimate for former prime ministers to seek a role in public life". But Blair's moral authority has been undermined by the fact that "he has done little to build the public's trust in the past decade".

Quite, says Geoff Norcott in The Independent. "Now that the public's not making the choices he likes, he wants to ignore them". Indeed, Blair and other Remain backers are turning "into Victorian patricians", even though after "yet another fall in the jobless count and a recent upgrade to the outlook for the British economy", it's clear that economic experts "wrongly cried wolf" about the risks of voting to leave. In essence, Blair is saying "that Leavers were ignorant" and "the political class knows best", agrees Simon Heffer in The Daily Telegraph.

In doing so, he not only shows "seething contempt for democracy", but also "confirms everything many who voted Leave thought about those who were lecturing them" during the referendum campaign. He also "says little about the allegations made by his own side, notably George Osborne's emergency Budget and Mark Carney's warnings of financial collapse, that proved entirely wrong".

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Far from being "heretical or controversial", Blair's observation that there could be a second referendum if public attitudes shift is "banal in the extreme", counters the New Statesman's Stephen Bush. After all, "if Britain falls out of the EU without a deal, if a hard border between Northern Ireland and the South reignites conflict in that part of the UK", support for Brexit will inevitably fall.It might fall anyway, as "the promises extended to the 52% cannot be reconciled with one another, let alone the 48%".

"If Blair is really as toxic and irrelevant as his critics aver, there'd be no need for all this fury," says Alex Massie in The Spectator. Instead, their reaction suggests that "he must have a point", especially "if the present trend of encouraging economic data peters out as Brexit actually happens". Given that Nigel Farage himself "made it clear that a narrow defeat would not end the matter", he, and other supporters of hard Brexit, are displaying huge "chutzpah" by attacking Blair for bringing up the prospect of a change of heart.

Article 50 debate is a credit to the Lords

The bill to trigger Article 50 and start the process of leaving the European Union was debated by the House of Lords this week. "Parliament's upper chamber is often derided for being out of touch," says James Blitz in the Financial Times, "but it is to the Lords' credit that 187 peers lined up to speak at such a historic occasion." While the Lords is very unlikely to reject the bill, planned amendments "could pose a headache" for Theresa May. The most contentious of these include provisions to guarantee the rights of EU citizens already in the UK, and the exact timing of the promised parliamentary vote on the deal.

This debate "is bigger than simply triggering Article 50", argues Labour peer David Blunkett in the Daily Mail. It is about grasping "the mood of ordinary people towards political elites". So when considering any amendments "it is vital to think of the broader political implications of our decisions". Not only would it be wrong to block Brexit; it would be a mistake "to place the government in a situation which is entirely contrary to that laid out by the prime minister".

The Lords shouldn't "thwart the popular will", agrees The Independent. But it does have the "right and duty" to "mind the constitution and protect human rights". This is particularly important "in the case of the three million EU nationals now settled, living and working, in education or retired" in the UK. These people "should not be used as bargaining chips" they represent a "body of people who make an enormous contribution to the life and property of the nation".

Dr Matthew Partridge

Matthew graduated from the University of Durham in 2004; he then gained an MSc, followed by a PhD at the London School of Economics.

He has previously written for a wide range of publications, including the Guardian and the Economist, and also helped to run a newsletter on terrorism. He has spent time at Lehman Brothers, Citigroup and the consultancy Lombard Street Research.

Matthew is the author of Superinvestors: Lessons from the greatest investors in history, published by Harriman House, which has been translated into several languages. His second book, Investing Explained: The Accessible Guide to Building an Investment Portfolio, is published by Kogan Page.

As senior writer, he writes the shares and politics & economics pages, as well as weekly Blowing It and Great Frauds in History columns He also writes a fortnightly reviews page and trading tips, as well as regular cover stories and multi-page investment focus features.

Follow Matthew on Twitter: @DrMatthewPartri