In his latest essay, “Brexit and the Centre“, we can find Tony Blair in an particularly thoughtful – albeit somewhat apocalyptic – mood. His long-lens look at the state of British politics concludes that the nation now cuts a diminished figure on the world stage, and could even be set to lose its status as a political, diplomatic, and economic powerhouse. The gist of the Blair assessment is this: Brexit is in and of itself a disaster, and the only thing worse than a Tory “Hard Brexit” would be a Tory “Hard Brexit” followed by a Labour “Hard Left” government — a scenario that is not only possible, but which now seems likely.
Blair’s deconstruction of the Brexit project makes for difficult reading. In his view, every option is fraught with complication, and the least politically-viable option – remaining in the EU – is the only one that is remotely economically sound. “No one”, claims Blair, “who has seriously examined these issues believes that a 3rd country FTA is remotely a substitute for membership of the Single Market”.
Let’s suppose Blair’s assessment of the political landscape is accurate. Let’s imagine he’s right that thriving outside the European Union is next-to impossible, and that perpetual membership is the only route to economic prosperity. If this true, then where’s the apology?
At no time were the British people told the truth about the nature of UK-EU relationship. With every new Treaty, where was the warning that Britain was being taken deeper into an organisation from which it would be impossible to escape without committing economic suicide? And where was the polite notice to the British people informing them that somewhere along the way they had lost the opportunity to be both wealthy and independent?
Although the Wealth-Independence dichotomy was never explained to the British people, the leaders of the Remain and Leave camps were clearly aware of it – and presumably had been so for some time. Thus, while the Brexit referendum was dominated by competing claims, the arguments advanced by both sides were entirely concordant.
Perhaps no one realised this at the time, but both campaigns relied on a shared assumption: When it came to the EU, the UK was in way too deep. And once you accepted this patently obvious proposition, it came down to where your priorities lay. For Remainers, the UK was too heavily integrated into the EU to leave without inflicting catastrophic economic self-harm; and for Leavers, the UK was too heavily integrated to remain without destroying whatever was left British sovereignty. Ultimately, the debate over Brexit was – and still is – simply a matter of emphasis. We all agree on the facts.
Everyone, then, was right about Brexit. It’s just a pity that leaders like Blair never took a moment to explain that there actions had turned British prosperity and British independence into mutually exclusive options.