‘Britain could stay in the EU,’ urges Blair
Could Brexit yet be thwarted? As Parliament debates the withdrawal bill, former PM Tony Blair has suggested that an agreement to end free movement of people could keep Britain in the EU.
His ten years in power saw migration to Britain rocket to record levels. He has consistently evangelised about the benefits of open borders and globalisation. But yesterday Tony Blair engaged in a dramatic reversal on the subject of immigration.
With Brexit looming and the EU withdrawal bill set for its second reading in Parliament today, the former prime minister called for new controls on migration within the EU. With the new curbs in place, Blair believes people’s “grievances” would be addressed without the “sledgehammer” of Brexit.
Speaking on The Andrew Marr Show on Sunday morning, Blair recommended “tightening” of the EU’s cherished principle of the free movement of people. Suggested measures include clamping down on benefit entitlement and “an emergency break” on migration in certain sectors of the economy.
"Brexit is a distraction, not a solution, to the problems this country is facing," he said.
His words were echoed by Andrew (Lord) Adonis, a former Labour cabinet minister and a Blair ally. Writing in The Observer, he laid out his plans for preventing Brexit.
“First, we need to secure a second referendum on the deal,” he wrote, emphasising that the public should not see this as a pure re-run of 2016’s vote. Adonis predicts that Labour MPs would vote in favour of a second referendum by 2018, meaning that only 20 or so Tory rebels would be needed to secure one.
The second key development would be an offer from the leaders of France and Germany to allow the UK to stay in the EU’s economic institutions.
Why might they do this? President Macron of France has already said that he does not see freedom of movement as integral to the single market. And there is the strategic aspect: as Adonis says, “If Britain leaves, 80% of NATO resources will then be outside the EU, which is hardly a recipe for European security and stability.”
But all this would be very difficult for diehard Remainers to achieve: public opinion has barely shifted since the referendum, and the sore-loser tag is proving difficult to shake off.
“This is all a pipe dream,” say many. Any second vote would instantly be branded as a like-for-like rematch, for that is effectively what it would be. A much safer and more realistic aim for Blair and his allies would be to pursue as soft a Brexit as possible, moving Britain from half-in the EU to half-out.
“Don’t be so sure,” reply others. Public opinion may not have moved as much as pro-EU politicians hoped, but as the negotiations drag on and the size of the task becomes more apparent that is likely to change. Blair, Adonis and others have the power and the connections to make this happen. Britain really might stay after all.
- Do you expect Britain to leave the EU on the currently scheduled date, March 29th 2019?
- Is Tony Blair a “sore loser”?
- List the three things you want most from the Brexit negotiations.
- Write a letter to your MP setting out to persuade him either to support or oppose a referendum on the Brexit deal.
Some People Say...
“Where there is no vision, the people perish.”Book of Proverbs
What do you think?
Q & A
- What do we know?
- Today is the second reading of the EU withdrawal bill, part of the Brexit process. Over the summer, David Davis, the UK’s lead negotiator, engaged in three rounds of negotiations with the EU. The dynamics of the House of Commons have changed since the Brexit referendum, with the Tories losing their majority. This has galvanised the most ardent Remainers, who now believe the right circumstances for staying in the EU could occur.
- What do we not know?
- Whether the Labour Party’s position on a potential second referendum will change. At the moment it is opposed to it, but it may see it as tactically sensible. Most Labour MPs backed Leave during the 2016 campaign, and the opposition party are seen as the key to keeping Britain in the EU.
- Record levels
- In 1990 net migration to the UK was at 36,000. In 2007, the final year of Blair’s premiership, the figure was 273,000 (source: ONS). Much of this was due to a rise in migration from Eastern European countries which became EU members in 2004.
- Benefit entitlement
- Restrictions on in-work benefits (tax credits and child benefit) were a key factor in David Cameron’s negotiations with the EU before the referendum.
- Federal elections will be held in Germany in two weeks’ time, with Angela Merkel expected to be re-elected as chancellor.
- President Macron
- Last month the French leader criticised EU rules on the employment abroad of workers from poorer countries in the union, calling the current system a "betrayal" of European values.
- Public opinion
- Britain voted 52% to 48% to leave the EU. A poll conducted by YouGov on August 31st, asking “In hindsight, do you think Britain was right or wrong to vote to leave the EU?” ended exactly equal.