Tony Blair’s attempts to derail the referendum result are contemptible

Tony Blair’s attempts to derail the referendum result are contemptible

Some people become stuck in their halcyon days, seeking to deny the passage of time and the changing of circumstances because they wish to keep things just the same as when they were in their prime.

When Tony Blair made his latest intervention on Brexit, two things came to mind. First, oddly enough, was a lyric in a song by James Blunt: “And though time goes by/ I will always be/ In a club with you/ In nineteen seventy three/ Singing, here we go again.”

You see, Tony and I travelled the world together back in the day – albeit he was mainly in a secluded cabin with his key aides at the front of the specially chartered plane and I was just one more lobby journalist at the back. Don’t feel any sympathy by the way – we had a row of seats each and club class service on tap. Singing, here we go again.

And it wasn’t 1973 but 1997 and beyond. In fact, the second thing that came to mind in the wake of Mr Blair’s plea to overturn Brexit is an image of him as a vigorous new Prime Minister at an EU summit in Amsterdam in the summer of ‘97, winning an impromptu bicycle race of national leaders.

This moment was laden with symbolism, for Blair decreed that the era of Britain’s foot-dragging over the EU project had ended with his election and from now on the UK would be “at the heart of Europe”. He was lauded as the hot new thing – rather as President Macron is being lauded now. Pretty soon he was turning his mind to how to get Britain into the euro, beginning a terrific tug-of-war with the Treasury which mercifully he ended up losing (well played there, Mr Balls).

In his own subconscious mind at least, I am convinced Mr Blair is still the young heroic figure peddling that bicycle from 1997 – before his administration reacted to A8 accession by allowing instant access to the UK labour market, before the euro crisis, before the Lisbon Treaty that turned the EU into a legal state and was ratified without a referendum, before the Merkel-inspired migration crisis and before the British people delivered the verdict of June 2016 that at last confirmed that 40 years of Whitehall inspired transfers of UK sovereignty were not what they ever wanted.

Mr Blair says democracy did not stop on 23rd June, 2016. Indeed it did not – though the wheels of government have turned rather slowly in respect of enacting the decision. He says people’s thinking on a topic tends to evolve as more information emerges. And indeed it does, though there is no sign of a widespread public wish to abandon Brexit.

But let us remind ourselves of the terms of the referendum that Mr Blair’s side lost despite – or perhaps in part because of – his enthusiastic participation. The overwhelming majority of MPs voted through the EU Referendum Bill that handed the decision on EU membership to the people. In an official communication to every household, the Government set out its case for remaining in the EU. But in that same document it made two key pledges to voters. The first one was that the referendum was a “once in a generation” decision. The second was: “This is your decision. The Government will implement what you decide”.

There was no caveat that said: “Unless we don’t like what it in which case we reserve the right to fail to implement it or make you vote again until you come up with the answer we wanted all along.”

So it simply will not do for Mr Blair or the rest of Continuity Remain to demand a second referendum to give the thumbs up or thumbs down to Brexit, based on a final agreement with the EU. For a start, the very prospect of such a thing would incentivise the EU to make the deal utterly unpalatable – as Blair well knows. But more importantly that would completely flout the terms under which the 2016 referendum was fought. A “once in a generation” decision would be subsumed into a second vote within three years and the Government would have betrayed its promise to implement what people decided on 23rd June, 2016. Our democracy would be exposed as a sham and our society massively destabilised as a consequence.

There is a perfectly honourable position for pro-EU campaigners to take that says once the 2016 referendum verdict has been implemented as promised (i.e. we have left the EU) they will start a campaign to rejoin. After a generation (i.e. about 30 years) they will be entitled to another referendum, should they have built up a public head of steam for rejoining once people have seen what kind of fist our country makes of restored national independence. But Blair and his acolytes won’t take that path, presumably because they understand it is doomed. Instead they are using their own weight within the political establishment to try and derail implementation of the people’s decision. Which is not honourable, but contemptible.

As ConservativeHome’s Mark Wallace recently noted, Blairites currently seem obsessed with ideas for new “centre” parties that revolve around the desire to keep us inside the EU and its project of political integration. Yet this is not a centrist desire at all – only a tiny proportion of the British public are signed up, like the Blairites, to the idea of ever closer union. Even most Remain voters I know were motivated more by fear of the economic impact of Brexit than by any desire to be part of a United States of Europe.

The truth is that in the 2016 referendum the majority of people opted for a radical proposition (leaving an organisation that governed so much of our collective decision-making and international relations to follow our own path) rather than an extremist proposition (staying part of a process that was progressively dismantling our nation state).

For people were not fooled by a 40-year Big Lie which sought to deny such trans-national political integration was happening at all. The Heath lie that no substantial sovereignty would be lost. The Blairite lie that Lisbon was a mere “tidying up exercise”. The Foreign Office lie that said “widening” of the EU (ie A8 and A2 accession) meant that “deepening” (ie the process of ever closer union) had been called off.

Since the referendum of 2016 the head honchos in Brussels have become even more blatant about their direction and speed of travel. There was no just-about-tolerable status quo on the ballot paper, only more dismantling of our nation.

Despite his riches, I have often thought about how difficult it must be to be Tony Blair these days. Once he was pretty much the most admired man on the planet. I saw that at first hand when I was on that post 9/11 trip to New York and Washington when he pledged we would stand “shoulder to shoulder” with America and America fell in love with him in return.

Now he is pretty much the most reviled political figure there is, at least in his own country. Not surprisingly he prefers to reside in that other country where they do things differently – the past. He’s welcome to it but the rest of us are under no obligation to indulge the pretence.