Today’s papers report that Tony Blair has called for either a snap general election or a second referendum to allow a reversal of June’s Brexit vote.
He’s urged Remainers not to accomodate themselves to the decision to Leave but instead to try to sell the public on staying in – which he admits there is presently no appetite for – and intends to set up a ‘political movement’ to do it.
Blair doesn’t like being held responsible for Brexit, but it’s nonetheless tempting to point out his culpability in several of the very concerns he’s now raising. His Government’s mishandling of Eastern European migration is well-documented, but Scotland’s position in the Union has been imperilled as much by his cack-handed constitutional upheavals as by Brexit.
Yet despite his calls for coordination and talk of setting up a political movement, the former Prime Minister’s intervention actually highlights how uncoordinated ‘Continuity Remain’ actually is.
There’s a clear split between those pursuing ‘soft Brexit’ and those fixed on a hard-line determination to overturn or reverse the referendum result. It’s probably not a coincidence that the latter position is better favoured by those, such as Blair, who are further from active, front-line politics.
But even the soft-Brexiteers themselves have so far been run from pillar to post by the Government, with even a court-ordered Parliamentary vote insufficient for them to bind Theresa May into either the Single Market or the Customs Union. Blair said today the issue is “moving all the time” – away from Remainers.
Had they all come together around a vision of soft Brexit immediately after June 23rd, they may have been able to hold the line. But the Remainers are suffering the same problem as unionists have done: they’re defending what was until recently the status quo, and so never needed factional organisation before.
Eurosceptics on the other hand have decades of experience and a relatively clear idea of what they’re aiming for. Blair is right to point out that (nearly) all the the pressure on the Government is coming from the right, but they’ve worked hard for that influence.
Blair and the rest of Continuity Remain don’t have decades: even if Article 50’s strict timeline gets bent, Britain will be out of the EU in a matter of years. The Government will have secured itself the ability to conduct and effectively conclude the negotiations within weeks.
In talking about “persuading some of the 52 per cent” Blair also underestimates his task: whilst 48 per cent of voters in the referendum backed Remain, that doesn’t mean there’s a floor of 48 per cent to reverse the result. It may only have taken 600,000 voters to swing the referendum, he will need to change many more than 600,000 minds.
Fundamentally, Blair’s movement looks likely to simply entrench a split between those trying to make the best of Brexit and those determined to take to the trenches – and allow the former to be painted as the latter, too. Ministers are probably not displeased.