Having essentially ended his self-imposed near exile from British public life after the publication of the Chilcot Report, Tony Blair gave a speech to Open Britain suggesting it was foolish of Remain campaigners to now roll over and accept the fate of leaving the European Union without any semblance of resistance.
My intention following the referendum result had been to respect entirely the Leave vote. I had committed, fully and with little reservation, to the Remain campaign. I disagreed with some on my own side, feeling David Cameron’s ‘Project Fear’ was foolish given the many positive achievements of the EU, and that Jeremy Corbyn’s vanishing act was a betrayal of the internationalist values that underpin the Labour movement, but I believed it was right to Remain. With the result going the other way, I then felt that the time was right for the political establishment to rally round and make the best of the inevitable outcome.
However, given recent developments, I believe that the argument of Blair must now be seen as a rallying call for those on the losing side. There was resignation to the fact we must accept even the worst of deals to leave the EU, but if Theresa May is honest with her suggestion that “no deal is better than a bad deal” then that is a scary prospect indeed. For us to decide that in leaving the EU we are to abandon entirely a group of nations to which Britain’s bond of allegiance is stronger than nearly any relationship cultivated since the end of the Empire would be to take the country backwards.
The argument follows that this path takes the UK ‘out of the EU and into the world’, but what world would we now find ourselves in? Faith in the ability of Britain to at least survive as an entity independent of the EU bloc was based in an equal faith in Britain’s place in the post Second World War global order. It is apparent now that this order is being undermined, if not wholly reshaped, by a cataclysmic political event in the United States. The illusory nature of the ‘special relationship’ has been covered in great depth elsewhere, but Britain has always been able to look to America in a global capacity. President Lyndon B. Johnson, in a speech to the UN General Assembly in 1963, pledged that, “[…] any nation that seeks peace, and hates war, and is willing to fight the good fight […] will find the United States of America by their side”. This appeal to Wilsonian democratic moralism has been the foundation of US foreign policy since the fall of Nazism, and its principles have meant Britain could always find solace in the White House where all else failed.
Britain cut loose from the EU will of course continue to attempt to catch America’s coattails; that much was clear from Theresa May’s kowtow to the President in Washington. Given a lack of alternatives to create a relationship with a true global superpower, we must indeed sell our souls to a nation which has displayed to us that it may not share the values on which we previously thought the ‘special relationship’ was formed. The American people proved in November that enough of them are willing to aid and abet a man who endorses sexual assault, attacks the free press and spreads falsehoods on an almost unprecedented level to propel him to the world’s highest office. It should surely be clear now to the British people that we have more in common with the liberally-minded people of Germany and France than with a nation in which 45% of the population offer explicit support for a man who stands counter to what many Brits would consider decent moral values.
It is this realisation that has led to my change of heart. If Britain can no longer treat America as a friend then leaving the EU will take us into a very empty place. We will still be able to call on Australia, Canada and New Zealand, we may seek to capitalise on Indian growth, but to leave the EU now weakens both our nation and the one entity which could seek to redress the global imbalance that may be caused by America’s new political order. I believe now, more strongly than ever before, that we are safer and stronger inside the EU, and that now is a time in which we should be pulling closer to Europe, not pushing it away and falling into the embrace of an unstable egomaniac.
Tony Blair was right, we cannot change the outcome of the referendum vote, but now is the time for those who still believe passionately in the European project to stand up and defend it. Our politicians still have the capacity to pull Britain back from the precipice, since our democracy is founded in Burkean tradition and not some kind of quasi-Athenian model, and now, in the cold light of a markedly different world to the one we faced last June, we must reconsider just what it would mean to abandon our closest geographic and political allies.