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Saturday, February 18, 2017

Tony Blair is right, but......

The level of bile directed at Tony Blair over yesterday's intervention in the Brexit debate was extraordinary, not least as most of it came from the party that he used to lead and which, I believe, he is still a member of.

It was extraordinary because Blair was speaking a basic truth, that the referendum did not specify what form Brexit should take, did not detail a path for the government to take and that the approach currently taken by the Tories does not actually have any mandate.

Referendums are not the same as an election. They present non-binary choices in a binary way, but as with an election it is up to the politicians to interpret the outcome in the best way they can.

That is because we live in a representative democracy in which those elected have regard to the wishes of their electorate but act in accordance with their own conscience and the more detailed information at their disposal.

In the case of the Brexit referendum, Blair is absolutely right. People did not vote for hard Brexit, they voted for a whole host of reasons, after being lied to and misled as to the consequences of their vote, to leave the EU. But did they vote to leave the single market? That was not on the ballot paper and many leavers told them they would not have to do do.

They voted for a £350m a week boost to the NHS, but that was never going to materialise. Instead we are going to have to pay billions more to the EU for the privilege of leaving. And they voted in some cases to control immigration, when most of that immigration comes from outside of the EU. They were lied to about that too.

It is not Blair who is insulting the intelligence of the British population, Boris, it is you and your cronies, who have consistently lied to them and who want to impose a solution on them without giving them a chance to vote on it.

In the face of all this, the reaction of the Labour Party is quite astonishing. They have abandoned all pretence at opposition and instead have swallowed hard Brexit, hook, line and sinker. So much so that even those who have been allies of Blair in the past and who are known as pro-European feel obliged to criticise him publicly.

People have a right to change their mind once they have seen the terms of the deal. That is why the Liberal Democrats have argued for a referendum on that deal. But the question must be posed: is Tony Blair the right person to lead the campaign for that to happen?

Well, firstly he stopped short on calling for another referendum, almost as if he believes that he is going to reverse the tide through some sort of electoral osmosis. He must know that another plebiscite is the only way to achieve his aim of rejecting hard Brexit.

Secondly, Blair himself is such a divisive figure, a man who lost the trust of the British electorate over Iraq, that any leadership role he assumes or is given is doomed to failure.

By all means Blair should devote what resources he can to the campaign for a second referendum but he needs to step back and let others take the lead. It is what the Liberal Democrats have been doing for some time.
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