Tony Blair’s record as a political and economic soothsayer is not without blemish. He was, for instance, an early and enthusiastic exponent of Britain joining the euro, saying in 2002 that it would be “crazy” to reject it on political grounds and a year earlier hailing the “low inflation and high growth” delivered by the European Central Bank. Fortunately, Gordon Brown and William Hague had other ideas and “the Master” – as Cameron and Osborne knew him – never got to scrap the pound.
But Blair is not one to give up. As recently as 2011, with the Eurozone’s economies resembling a train wreck, the former Prime Minister was still saying there might be a case for the UK joining the single currency.
Ditto with the referendum. Before the June 23 vote, Blair was an active proponent of Project Fear, claiming on June 7 that the country would suffer an “economic shock” if it left the EU and that “several years of economic insecurity” lay ahead in such an eventuality.
So perhaps it is no surprise that yesterday Blair returned to the fray, arguing in a BBC interview (where else?) that the country should keep its options open over Europe and that a second referendum, intended to reverse the verdict of the first, should not be ruled out. He described the reassertion of national independence as a “catastrophe” and suggested that once the terms of the divorce were known the public might well decide they had changed their minds and wanted to stay in this emerging superstate, overflowing with milk, honey and perpetual crises.
Once again Mr Blair was in denial. He chose to give his interview on the day the UK defied official predictions from the Bank of England and the Treasury that post-Brexit the economy would go off a cliff. If fact it grew by 0.5 per cent in the last quarter, putting it on course to be the fasting growing in the G7 group of major nations – far more strongly than the most optimistic 0.1 per cent forecast by the Treasury. And for good measure Nissan and Toyota both committed to expanding their UK operations.
In short, Blair was wrong about the euro, wrong about the referendum (he predicted a Remain victory) and wrong about the immediate economic impact of quitting the EU.
Many would add that he was also wrong about Iraq. Certainly, he predicated his invasion on the basis of faulty intelligence, including the always ludicrous statement that Saddam could deploy his (non-existent) weapons of mass destruction in 45 minutes. And his planning for a post-Saddam Iraq was clearly utterly inadequate.
By a somewhat circuitous route, there is also linkage between Blair’s misjudged intervention in Iraq in 2003 and Britain’s vote to quit the EU in 2016. Without the savage turmoil in Iraq and the surrounding area and the vicious civil war in Syria (a consequence of that instability) we would not have the migrant crisis and mounting public concern about uncontrolled immigration and its implications for domestic security – the key factor in the vote to leave.
Join up the dots and it is not just David Cameron who inadvertently triggered our departure from the EU. His hero, Blair, also played his part, while still refusing to believe that the past cannot be remade. Only three weeks ago Blair was musing about making a possible return to front-line politics and that the centre would rise again in the Labour party. As he put it:
“There’s been a huge reaction against the politics I represent. But I think it’s too soon to say the centre has been defeated. Ultimately I don’t think it will. I think it will succeed again. The centre ground is in retreat. This is our challenge. We’ve got to rise to that challenge.”
Of course, you should never say never in politics. But Britain joining the euro and going back to the EU? And Tony Blair being welcomed back into the Labour fold? You would want long odds to bet on all that.