Tony Blair: After Brexit

Tony Blair: After Brexit

Commentary
Posted on: 31st January 2020
Tony Blair
Former Prime Minister of Great Britain and Northern Ireland and Executive Chairman of the Tony Blair Institute for Global Change

I opposed Brexit with every fibre of my political being. I still deeply regret it, politically and emotionally. Even now, I grind my teeth at the mind-boggling ineptitude of the Labour Party in helping facilitate it, first by failing to provide coherent opposition to it, and then by collapsing into a Brexit General Election, only to complain about it dominating the debate.

But Brexit is happening, and our attitude now should be to strive to make the best of it; to approach it with determined optimism, not looking over our shoulders in unrequited longing for what was. If we do in the future want to re-join, it should be from a position of strength not supplication; but it’s not something which should occupy us today.

Saying this is not easy. But it is necessary. No one in the country is going to thank us or think more of us if we behave churlishly in defeat and frankly the challenge of making Brexit work is sufficiently important for our nation, that we cannot afford to be absent from it.

Because one version of Brexit is nationalistic, glorifying in isolation; the other using our independence from Europe to forge a new path in the era of globalisation and find our niche as an innovator and global leader where we have the capabilities to do so.

We have assets and we must make the most of them. We should invest in what will make our economy strong renewing our infrastructure but sustainably, linking up our diverse regions of the UK; building a world class education system; encouraging a highly competitive business and enterprise sector; and making our Government also a place of innovation and creativity, finding the best minds and ideas to change the way we govern not through endless constitutional introspection, but by providing the most modern and efficient Government service to the people.

We are leaders in tech in Europe; we should enhance that position through a benign regulatory environment and ensuring our Universities remain amongst the best in the world.

We need to see immigration, with proper controls, as a vital component of economic success, not as a threat to our cultural integrity.

Our Armed Forces require modernisation and investment. They're an essential arm of British power and influence.

And we need to find a new place in the world.

My foreign policy was based on two pillars: being the closest ally of the USA; and part of the collective leadership of Europe.

We should of course keep our American relationship close for multiple reasons of economy, security and shared values.

But we shouldn't see ourselves as forced by departure from Europe to try to compensate by reliance on the USA.

On the contrary, we need to show what we can bring to their table, in our own right, in economic partnership, trade, diplomacy, the fight against extremism and helping fashion Western alliances with the new emerging Asian and African powers.

Brexit is happening, and our attitude now should be to strive to make the best of it; to approach it with determined optimism

Our European relationship – short term – must get over the considerable hurdle of the new trade negotiation. For sure, this will be difficult.

But it can be made easier if we do two things: focus on the distinction between the theoretical ability to diverge and the practical desire to do it. We won't be able to do a piecemeal deal; but it should be possible to parcel it out into areas where a common set of standards is plainly mutually beneficial; and areas where we see a real advantage in divergence. We should choose the latter carefully.

Secondly, we cannot repeat the insouciant complacency of the post 2016 negotiation. This next phase needs the best and the brightest brains, with laser like attention to detail and a total alignment of civil service and political leadership.

In parallel, we should work out how we can partner Europe in the future in fields where cooperation is clear and additive for both of us.

I can think of several: a common approach to the environment and energy; a defence and security partnership where we recognise the threats we face together and where we pool most effectively our military and intelligence assets; educating our youth through school and University partnerships; building European tech capability so that the next generation of tech innovation does not come solely from the USA or China; and a shared approach to the world where we face common challenges on our doorstep – in the Middle East and Africa, where Europe presently often lacks the capacity or coherence to be the key player it should be.

In other words, consistent with our position outside of Europe but cognisant of the inescapable fact that we remain part of the continent and through history and geography are so clearly related, we should set about systematically building a relationship not on shared laws but on shared interests and values. 

Britain cannot be a global super power. But it can be a global leader. It can be a global model. It can from the environment to development to technology be a global innovator.

There is a niche for us. We just need to be creative and confident about finding it.

I would have preferred us to do much of this inside the European Union and I believe we could have.

But that is now behind us.

Britain is a great country. At our best, we are a great people. Our history shows us what our future can be. Time to embrace it.   

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