Tony Blair’s speech to the ‘Stop the Brexit Landslide’ rally
6th December 2019
Former Prime Minister of Great Britain and Northern Ireland and Executive Chairman of the Tony Blair Institute for Global Change
[Responding to Sir John Major’s video introduction where he closed by saying: “So, with four words that – once upon a time – would have never easily passed my lips, I say tonight with great pleasure: “Tony, over to you ……” ]
Here are 5 words I never thought I would say: Thank God for John Major.
To John, to Michael Heseltine: for years I stood against you; tonight, it is an honour to stand with you.
And to David Gauke and many others, good, smart, capable people across the political spectrum prepared to speak out, to put country before Party and principle before position: your courage is an example. It is a tragic commentary on the state of the nation that those whose voices we need most in our politics are in greatest danger of being silenced.
6 days to save our future.
6 days to have our say.
6 days to a turning point in the history of one of the greatest nations on earth.
6 days to find our place in the future.
Brexit is not a mistake. I wish it were.
Brexit is a disaster.
And I say to those of my generation who voted for it: with age can come the wisdom of lived experience; but it is youth that has its finger on the beating pulse of the future.
We have no right to steal that future from them.
They know the world today works through connections. Brexit breaks them.
They see how success belongs to the open mind; Brexit closes that of their nation.
They understand that their hopes will never prosper in the modern world without attachment to the hopes of their neighbours.
Brexit throws these hopes on a bonfire of confusion of national pride with nationalism.
The proof? This NATO summit. Raging debate within Europe and between Europe and America. And us? The hosts? Left with all the pomp but the circumstance strewn with the ashes of once mighty relevance.
Tonight’s event to any student of British politics is surreal. This Election beyond surreal. But the threat to our country all too real.
So here we are, divided by political heritage, but united today by Brexit and by more than Brexit.
Our opposition to Brexit is simply put as Britain staying politically part of the continent to which we naturally belong; but more deeply that opposition is rooted in a belief that patriotism is not defined by those who wave the flag but those who carry it through the changing contours of history to protect its values and our place in the world.
Now the Brexiteers use Brexit fatigue, as the reason to do it. Get it done they promise and doing it, will end it.
But before the country falls for the new promise, I ask it to recall the old promises.
Remember when they promised that Britain’s exit would be just the first, and once the rest of Europe saw the genius of our move, they would fall like dominoes.
No other nation has followed us. No one will follow us. In fact, there are nations to the east queuing to join.
They promised the new trade deal would be easy, the Europeans battering our door down in surrender before the brilliance of our negotiating skill.
Instead, we are outside their door, in anxious supplication.
When John Major and I warned the Irish border would create a dilemma between keeping the Good Friday Agreement and undermining it, they derided us, promising the Irish cake would be had and eaten;
And now the backstop is a frontstop, we have not one border but two and the Democratic Unionists are prime witnesses to the dangers of trusting Boris Johnson.
They promised our economy would flourish, yet our currency remains as stubbornly devalued as it became on 24th June 2016.
And they promised £350m more every week for our health service, and instead we have an NHS in crisis made worse by losing good European workers who came to our country and whose presence did and does our NHS proud.
So, when they now promise vote Conservative and it’s over, that promise too is false. Brexit won't be over.
The new negotiation will begin, not the one about Northern Ireland but about Britain, a negotiation in which the outcome will swiftly become sell-out or crash-out.
But what will be over is our final chance to have a final say on that outcome before we know it.
They accuse us of being undemocratic.
But what is undemocratic about demanding that we vote on our future before we are obliged to live with it?
I will tell you what is undemocratic: mixing up Brexit with a General Election.
If Brexit is the question, ask us about Brexit. That is the democratic way.
Now they even have the cheek to say: get Brexit done so we can get back to the important issues.
I agree Brexit is a vast distraction.
The decisions which matter to our daily lives are not taken in Brussels but in Britain.
The British Parliament decides the future of the NHS, not the European Parliament.
The big decisions on taxes, spending, welfare, pensions, crime are taken in Downing St, not the European Commission.
Brexit is indeed distractive and destructive in equal measure.
But that is not a reason for doing it, but for recoiling from it, by returning to those important issues through the only path which leads there, by giving the people the right to think again, this time based not on promises but on knowledge of what the last 40 months of political mayhem have taught us.
Because unfortunately the distraction of Brexit does not diminish the significance of it.
Brexit is the substitute of a comforting delusion for the discomforting challenge of a changing world. Changing through technology. Through globalisation. Through the geo-political shift to the East. The USA remains the most powerful nation on earth; but China has risen and will rise further. In time India too.
In every corner of the globe, other nations are banding together for strength and even safety.
The European Union is the world’s largest commercial market and biggest political union. On our doorstep. An alliance to which we are bound by every conceivable bond of history, geography, values and interests.
We have all heard people say: ‘we won two World Wars, what did we fight for if we can't do Brexit?’
But we didn't fight two World Wars for European nations to be isolated but to be reconciled. We fought for peace. We fought for the values of democracy, tolerance and an end to bigotry and prejudice. And after the War Europe was reconciled and relative to centuries of conflict, we have peace. And prosperity. And power.
Do not give Boris Johnson a majority. He does not deserve it.
This Conservative Party which now expels the likes of Michael Heseltine, disowns the statesmanship of John Major, a Party whose Chancellor as of July this year is now exiled in the wilderness for the temerity to say what he knows to be true, namely that a No Deal Brexit is a risk no responsible Government would take, such a Conservative Party does not deserve to govern unchecked and the country would not be wise to let them.
Some groan at the idea of a Hung Parliament.
But better a Parliament that's hung for want of a majority than a country hung for want of leadership.
It’s not Brexit that's getting done. We're getting done.
So here we are: crazy times. Strange bedfellows. Unique risks.
Its not one General Election but 650 individual ones.
There are great Labour candidates who deserve whole-hearted support. I am voting Labour. But let me put it this way. If you look, constituency by constituency, you will know the best candidates to back. Back them!
I know this election is horrible. It’s like finding your way through a maze where at every turn you find something shocking.
But the British people must navigate a way out. And we must help them.
6 days to a decision of destiny.
6 days to reclaim our future and shape it.
Not in my lifetime and maybe never again in yours has there been such a choice of such moment.