reproduce in this post Tony Blair’s commentary on the excellent report his Global Institute has published. The link to the full report is at the end.
one disputes the 2016 vote. And no one disputes that if it stands as the
expression of British opinion, we will leave.
issue is whether as facts emerge, as the negotiation proceeds and we have
clarity over the alternative to present membership of the EU, we have the right
to change our mind
would like the Labour Party to be on the high ground of progressive politics,
explaining why membership of the European Union is right as a matter of
principle, for profound political as well as economic reasons.
If we do leave Europe, the governing mind will have been that of the Tory right. But, if Labour continues to go along with Brexit and insists on leaving the Single Market, the handmaiden of Brexit will have been the timidity of Labour.
Brexit the Tory Brexit. Make them own it 100%.
2018 will be the year when the fate of Brexit and thus of Britain will be decided. 2017 was too early in the negotiation. By 2019, it will be too late.
Realistically, 2018 will be the last
chance to secure a say on whether the new relationship proposed with Europe is
better than the existing one. And to insist that the ‘deal’ contains the
necessary detail to make the say meaningful.
I make no secret of my desire that
Britain stays in the European Union.
This is the most important decision we
have taken as a nation since the Second World War. It decides the destiny and
fortunes of our children for years to come. And I believe passionately that by
exiting the powerful regional bloc of countries on our doorstep, to whom we are
linked physically by the Channel Tunnel, commercially by the Single Market,
historically by myriad ancient ties of culture and civilisation, and
politically by the necessity of alliance in an era which will be dominated by
the USA in the West and China and India in the East, we are making an error the
contemporary world cannot understand and the generations of the future will not
But the campaign in the first instance
is not to reverse the decision; but to claim the right to change our minds once
we see the terms of the new relationship.
No one disputes the 2016 vote. And no
one disputes that if it stands as the expression of British opinion, we will
The issue is whether as facts emerge,
as the negotiation proceeds and we have clarity over the alternative to present
membership of the EU, we have the right to change our mind; whether the ‘will
of the people’ – this much abused phrase - is deemed immutable or is permitted
to mutate as our perception of reality becomes better informed.
When we voted in 2016, we knew we were voting
against our present membership of the European Union, but not what the future
relationship with Europe would be.
It was like having a General Election
in which the question is ‘Do You Like the Government’? If that were the
question, few incumbent Governments would be re-elected.
Once we know the alternative, we should
be entitled to think again, either through Parliament or an election or through
a fresh referendum, which will, of course, not be a re-run of the first because
it will involve this time a choice based on knowledge of the alternative to
existing EU membership.
Over the past months the Brexit
landscape – hitherto obscured in the fog of claim and counter claim – is being
We have now had the Budget prediction
that, due to Brexit, economic growth is going to be below expectation not just
this year but averaging 1.5% for the next 5 years in a row. This has not
happened for over 30 years. This is in addition to the fall in our currency,
fall in living standards and now the first falls in employment.
Concomitant with that was the admission
that we would have less and not more to spend on the NHS and that, for the next
years at least, we will not be getting money back from Europe but, rather,
giving a large sum to it.
Then there was the Northern Ireland
negotiation. The claim the issue is now ‘resolved’ is risible. It is merely
postponed. Instead, the negotiation revealed the nature of the real choices we
face and the tension at the heart of the Government’s negotiating position.
In essence, there are 4 options in
approaching the Brexit negotiation:
re-think and stay, best done in a reformed Europe, where we use the Brexit vote
as leverage to achieve reform.
exit the political structures of the EU, but stay in the economic structures ie
the Single Market and Customs Union.
exit both the political and the economic structures of Europe but try to negotiate
a bespoke deal which recreates the existing economic benefits and keeps us
close to Europe politically.
exit both structures, to make a virtue of leaving, to negotiate a basic Free
Trade Agreement and market ourselves as ‘Not Europe’.
Here is the rub: all the last three
options are Brexit. But they have vastly different impacts and outcomes.
The Government has ruled out option 2,
is seeking to negotiate option 3, but a substantial part of the Tory Party is
prepared to go for option 4.
The problem with option 3 is that this
is simply not negotiable without major concessions which make a mockery of the
case for leaving.
The problem with option 4 is that it
would involve significant economic pain as we adjust our economy to the new
terms of trade.
It is absurd to say that it is
undemocratic to demand that the people be free to have a say on what the final
deal is, given the wide disparity in the forms of Brexit and their
How can we assess the true ‘will of the
people’ before we know what the alternative to present EU membership looks like
given that the alternatives have such different effects?
Northern Ireland is a metaphor for the
central Dilemma of this negotiation: we are either in the Single Market and
Customs Union; or we will have a Hard Border and Hard Brexit.
It is the difference between the status
of Norway and that of Canada. In the Norway case, there is full access to the
Single Market but with its obligations, including freedom of movement.
In the case of Canada, there is a
standard Free Trade Agreement (FTA) with considerable easing of trade in goods
but with border checks and without anything like the services access of the
This really is a zero sum game: the
nearer the Norway option, the more the obligations; the nearer the Canada
option, the less the access.
It is not a matter of who is the
toughest negotiator. The Dilemma flows naturally from the way the Single Market
was created. It is a unique trading area with a single system of regulation and
a single system of arbitration namely the ECJ.
The whole point of it is that it is not
a FTA. It is qualitatively different.
So there is no way you can say I want
to be out of its rules, but in its advantages.
The Single Market is one game; a Free Trade Agreement (FTA) is
Think of it in this way. Suppose the
English FA wants to arrange a football match with France. There are many
things to negotiate about: the venue, the timing, the price of the tickets etc. But suppose the FA then said to their
French counterparts, we also want to negotiate whether we have 15 players on
our team not 11. The French would say sorry but you have the wrong address,
talk to the Rugby Federation.
Yet this seems to be the negotiating
position of the Government.
David Davis asserts we will leave the
Single Market and Customs Union but replicate ‘the exact same benefits’ in a
Boris Johnson talks of diverging from
Europe’s regulation but having frictionless border trade and full access to
Europe’s services market.
The PM insists we will have the most
comprehensive trade deal ever, weirdly forgetting we already have it.
Philip Hammond is arguing for close
alignment to Europe after Brexit.
Meanwhile Liam Fox is cheerfully
talking up the trade deals we will make once we are out of the Customs Union
and away from that alignment.
Of course the FTA can be far reaching,
though the more it covers the more complicated the negotiation and the greater
the regulatory alignment. But it can never replicate the ‘exact same benefits’
of the Single Market; not without obedience to its obligations and regulation.
The concessions we were rightly forced
to make in respect of Northern Ireland express and expose the Dilemma.
If we want freedom of movement of
people across the border on the island of Ireland, we can do it but only by
effectively abandoning border controls on migration. So someone could move from
mainland Europe to Dublin to Belfast to Liverpool without any check.
It is often said by Brexiteers that
Norway and Sweden don't have a hard border for the movement of people. It is
true. But that is because Norway is part of the Single Market; and so accepts
freedom of movement.
In any event, it is now virtually
conceded that Britain needs the majority of the European migrant workers and as
our study shows, Brexit is already seriously harming recruitment in vital
sectors, including the NHS.
If we want free movement of goods, then
Northern Ireland will have to be in a relationship with the EU where the rules
of the Customs Union still apply.
But if we do that, then how can the UK
be out of it?
This is the conundrum we will face
across the board. How will financial services and other sectors be able to
trade freely in Europe without regulatory alignment?
Suppose Europe even agrees to do this
on a ‘pick and choose’ basis, the ‘alignment’ they will demand will be
alignment with Europe’s rules.
And how will disputes in these
circumstances be arbitrated other than through the involvement of the ECJ?
Once this central Dilemma becomes
manifest during the negotiation, the split in the Government will re-emerge.
The PM will still be in favour of
Option 3, making the concessions and trying to present them as consistent with
‘taking back control’. The true-believer Leavers will recognise the concessions
contradict the essential reasons for leaving and will be in favour of then
moving to option 4.
The British Civil Service is – or at
least was in my time- probably the best in Europe. The problem isn't with the
negotiators but with the negotiation.
The risk is that we end up with the
worst of all worlds. We muddle along, alternating between options 3 and 4,
depending on what part of the Tory Party is in the ascendency, try to ‘leave’
without really leaving, with a patchwork of arrangements which allows the
Government to claim Brexit has been done; but which in reality only mean we
have lost our seat at the table of rule-making.
This would be a grim outcome for the country.
And it is where the Labour Party faces
its own challenge.
I would like the Labour Party to be on
the high ground of progressive politics, explaining why membership of the
European Union is right as a matter of principle, for profound political as
well as economic reasons.
I disagree with our present position
But even tactically, it is mistaken.
First, because the Labour Party is
saying that we too would do Brexit, we cannot attack its vast distractive
impact. Labour could mount such a powerful assault on the Government’s record
from the appalling state of the NHS to crime, which through neglect and failure
to support the police is on the rise again, if we were saying to the country:
here's the agenda which could be delivered for the people were not for the fact
that all the energies of Government and substantial amounts of cash are devoted
And, second, it puts us in a vulnerable
position when the Government concludes ‘the deal’ some time in 2018.
My bet is that the Government will try
to negotiate an agreement which leaves much detail still to negotiate, because
there is no way round the Dilemma. They will bank some low hanging fruit
possibly e.g. tariff free access for goods (leaving for later non tariff
issues). For Europe since they have a whacking great surplus with Britain on
goods, this is a no-brainer.
But on access for services, which have
driven most of our export growth over the last 20 years, are 70% of our
economy, and where we have the surplus, we will be blocked without major
concessions. Unless the Government has found some miraculous way round the
Dilemma, they will probably try to emulate the December Northern Ireland
‘agreement’ and have some general headings – more aspiration than detail - with
a lot to negotiate after March 2019 during the transitional period where Britain
will continue to abide by the rules of the Single Market.
The Government will then say it is this
deal or no deal and Labour will be left arguing that they would be better
negotiators. This isn't credible.
And here Labour has its own ‘cake and
eat it’ phrases. The Shadow Chancellor says we will not be in ‘the’ Single
Market but ‘a’ Single Market. The Shadow Industry Minister talks of
keeping the benefits of the Customs Union agreements but still being free to
negotiate our own trade deals.
This is confusing terrain on which to
Far better to fight for the right for
the country to re-think, demand that we know the full details of the new
relationship before we quit the old one, go to the high ground on opposing
Brexit and go after the Tories for their failures to tackle the country’s real
Make Brexit the Tory Brexit.
Show people why Brexit isn't and never
was the answer.
Open up the dialogue with European
leaders about reforming Europe, a dialogue they're more than willing to have
now because they realise Brexit also damages Europe economically and
At every PMQs nail each myth of the
Brexit campaign, say why the Tory divisions are weakening our country -
something only credible if we are opposed to Brexit not advocating a different
Brexit, and challenge the whole farce head on of a Prime Minister leading our
nation in a direction which even today she can't bring herself to say she would
If we do leave Europe, the governing
mind will have been that of the Tory right. But, if Labour continues to go
along with Brexit and insists on leaving the Single Market, the handmaiden of
Brexit will have been the timidity of Labour.
This is the link to the full