Religious Fervour Can Be A Bad Guide
When Tony Blair first came to my attention, and I brought him on to the Front Bench as a promising young MP, he gave no sign of religious fervour. Like many others, therefore, I was surprised when he later revealed the strength of his religious beliefs, and the part they seem to have played in some of the more momentous decisions he took, not least over the decision to invade Iraq.
Some of his critics have claimed that his religious faith takes a particular form, in that he suffers a Messiah complex that impels him to see himself as the central figure in any great issue of the day. If that is so, then he seems to be at it again, with his announcement that he is prepared to offer himself as the saviour of the remain campaign, and ready to lead the lost tribes back to the EU’s promised land.
The immediate response to his easy assumption that his renewed intervention will prove decisive is to wonder why it should be any different this time. His persuasive skills seemed less than fully effective the first time round, during the referendum campaign; there were even those who feared that his endorsement of the remain campaign might actually have been counter-productive.
My purpose, however, is not to speculate as to whether or not there will be another round at some future date, and – if so – what part Tony Blair might play in it, but rather, to point up an impact he is sure to have on the critical situation faced by the British people right here and now.
As we are constantly told, the Brexit vote will require a prolonged and difficult negotiation between the UK and our former partners in the EU. Much will depend on the attitudes taken by the negotiators on either side as to whether Europe – whose fortunes are supposedly so dear to the hearts of so many remainers – will emerge in good order, with relations in good shape, and with a constructive future before it. Each party will nevertheless, no doubt, strive might and main in the search for an advantage.
In these respects, the stance of our European partners will matter just as much as our own and, on that score, the omens are not promising. The prevailing attitude of leading EU figures seems to be that the UK must be made to pay a price for our temerity in deciding our own future and that there will be no easy deal or constructive relationship as the former partners ride off separately into the sunset.
This attitude is usually explained and excused by its supporters as a necessary piece of self-protection, for fear that otherwise others might also be tempted to leave the club – so much for any thought that lessons might be learnt so that the future health of European cooperation might take priority over the immediate and particular requirements of the cabal that currently runs the EU.
But what this certainly means is that the EU negotiators will be looking intently for anything that could be exploited in the negotiations – for any weakening of the British position or any lessening of their resolve. Any suggestion from within the UK that the Brexit decision might be reversed or that opinion is moving in favour of remain will be meat and drink to those engaged, from the other side of the table, in trying to nail us to the worst possible deal.
Never mind that the polls seem to suggest that any movement in opinion since the referendum has been to confirm the Brexit decision. When a former Prime Minister proclaims his readiness to lead an uprising in favour of reversing Brexit, the EU negotiators are bound to sit up and take notice and to redouble their efforts.
There is, in other words, an unfortunate shared interest between the EU at the negotiating table and the remainers at home. Both want the UK to end up with a bad deal, both pour encourager les autres in Europe, on the one hand, and to persuade British voters to re-consider on the other. The sad truth for remainers is that some of their leading champions are not only campaigning to negate a democratic decision at home but are acting against our national interests in a crucial negotiation abroad.
It is in that precise context that Tony Blair’s intervention should be seen. Whether deliberately or carelessly, he seems happy to give comfort to those who would do us down, and to increase the chances that the UK and the EU will part on bad terms, following a bad-tempered negotiation, and to their common disadvantage.
Religious fervour can be a dangerous and uncaring guide and taskmaster. When our self-proclaimed leaders take sides, it’s good to know whose side they are on.
20 February 2017.