Tony Blair faces Brexit speech backlash on five fronts

Written by David Singleton on 17 February 2017 in Diary

Opponents of the former PM are doing their best to reframe his argument, rather then engage with it.

Supporters of Brexit were never likely to agree with much of what Tony Blair had to say in his speech today.

But the former prime minister ended up agitating his opponents on a far greater scale than Jeremy Corbyn has ever achieved.

So how have they been hitting back? Here are five of the key arguments employed by those seeking to bring him down.


1. 'Blair won’t accept the result.'

Blair began today’s speech by acknowledging that the “British people voted to leave Europe” and declaring that “the will of the people should prevail”.

Crucially, he added: “I accept right now there is no widespread appetite to re-think.”

But Tory HQ were having none of it. Shortly after the speech, they issued a quote from Brexiteer backbencher Dominic Raab stating that Blair "refuses to accept the decision people made last June".



2. 'Blair thinks Leave voters are stupid.'

One of Blair’s key arguments is that it was never clear whether a Leave vote would result in a soft Brexit or a hard Brexit. Or something worse. He also believes that many people voted Leave on the basis on bogus claims made by the likes of Boris Johnson and Michael Gove.

As Blair put it in his speech: "The people voted without knowledge of the true terms of Brexit. As these terms become clear, it is their right to change their mind.... Our challenge is to expose relentlessly what this cost is, to show how the decision was based on imperfect knowledge which will now become informed knowledge."

But to Brexiteers such as Boris Johnson, this amounts to Blair saying voters are stupid.

"I think it really is insulting the intelligence of the electorate to say they got it wrong," said the foreign secretary.

“I call on the British people to rise up and turn off the TV when Tony Blair next appears with his condescending campaign."






3. 'Blair misled voters about immigration in the first place.'

During his time in Number 10, Blair is accused of presiding over a wave of immigration from eastern European countries - without being entirely straight with the electorate about its likely magnitude.

When the former PM laid into Brexit today, some opponents suggested that this track record might undermine his argument somewhat.

As the leading Conservative commentator Tim Montgomerie put it: "Tony Blair, who brought mass immigration to UK without democratic permission, now wants to overturn a legitimate referendum result."

Blair directly addressed the issue of immigration in his speech, arguing that leaving the EU would only reduce the number of new arrivals to the UK by a fraction.



4. 'Blair has already made it clear he has no respect for democracy.'

It is no secret that Tony Blair has made lots of money from consultancy work carried out for foreign governments and multi-national firms.

The former PM has faced criticism for advising countries including Kazakhstan, Kuwait, Rwanda, Albania and Azerbaijan. And some Brexiteers say this shows that he has no respect for democracy anyway.

“The idea we are going to have Tony Blair coming in, late in the day lecturing, after advising quasi-dictators around the world what to do,” said Blair’s old foe Iain Duncan Smith today.

The former Tory leader and arch-Brexiteer added: "He seems to have forgotten what democracy is about.”






5. 'Blair should not be listened to on anything ever because of Iraq'

Politicians on both the left and the right can agree that Tony Blair was wrong to go to war in Iraq in 2003. And both can use it to criticise his stance on an entirely different matter 14 years later.

Responding to today's speech, Boris Johnson noted that the former PM "dragooned the United Kingdom into on a completely false prospectus, with consequences which foreign ministers here are still trying to deal with".

Tory minister Gavin Barwell jibed: "Of course when Tony Blair was prime minister we never took important decisions based on ‘imperfect knowledge’…"

And from the other end of the political spectrum, Labour’s Richard Burgon stated today: "Addressing UK in / from heart of banking, Tony Blair uses his formidable oratorical skills to argue referendum shouldn't count. He's wrong.

"Blair was one of most able political communicators of his age. As PM, mostly right. But several times, his judgment = direst consequences."




Picture by: Victoria Jones/PA Wire/PA Images.







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