Don’t risk mixing general election with Brexit, Tony Blair warns
Tony Blair warned against Boris Johnson’s apparent desire for a no-deal Brexit.
Tony Blair has warned that fighting a general election on the issue of Brexit is a “vast elephant trap” that could allow Boris Johnson to claim a mandate for leaving without a deal.
The former prime minister said that he would “beg” MPs not to contest a general election over fears of a “substantial risk that we end up with a no-deal Brexit” — which he argued was the UK Government’s strategy.
A no-deal Brexit would also be a “profound threat” to the union of the United Kingdom, Mr Blair suggested, adding a “whole additional dimension” to the argument for Scottish independence.
Speaking in Edinburgh to the Scottish Parliamentary Journalists’ Association, Mr Blair made a plea for MPs not to have a general election underpinned by the issue of Brexit, suggesting that “the opposition vote is divided” which could allow a victorious Mr Johnson to claim a mandate for his apparent no-deal strategy.
The strategy is laid out very clearly, and it's a vast elephant trap of great width and depth, with neon signs flashing around it saying: 'Elephant trap - elephants of limited awareness please fall in' Tony Blair
Referring to a Government briefing that the Tories would contest an election on a platform supporting a no-deal Brexit, Mr Blair said: “The strategy is laid out very clearly, and it’s a vast elephant trap of great width and depth, with neon signs flashing around it saying: ‘Elephant trap – elephants of limited awareness please fall in’.
“They should avoid that.”
Mr Blair added: “The right thing is indeed to go back to the people but I beg you, please, not by way of a general election.
“To mix a general election up with the specific issue of Brexit is wrong in principle and it’s wrong in the politics.”
Describing politics as having been “upended” by the combination of Brexit, a decade of austerity and Jeremy Corbyn’s election as Labour leader, Mr Blair suggested that a no-deal outcome was now most likely, which he said would be used in arguments for Scottish independence.
He said: “I remain a convinced unionist, I want Scotland to remain part of the United Kingdom irrespective of Brexit, whether it happens or doesn’t happen.
“But it would be foolish to deny that if what is proposed is a no-deal Brexit, and we were to do such a thing, then it would be a whole additional dimension for the argument for independence that those who wish for independence would use and use persuasively.”
Since he left office in 2007, Mr Blair explained that he has been able to witness “how rapidly the world is undergoing vast change – economically, socially and geopolitically” and said that there is a technological revolution that is going to change literally everything.”
Calling for the UK to embrace the global changes to “access opportunities and mitigate its risks and dangers”, Mr Blair cited the collapse of Thomas Cook as an indication of how public behaviour is shifting.
“Thomas Cook is part of the changing way that consumers are operating today and that technological change,” Mr Blair said.
“This is a symbol of the change that is going to be happening in industries and sectors right across the economy for years to come.”
Relating the global challenges to the campaign for Scottish independence, Mr Blair said that he hoped the debate recognised “independence in itself will not solve these major challenges” and hoped for less “distorted” political discourse.
My belief is that it will be clear over these next months that there is the potential for a renewal of the centre ground of politics Tony Blair
Mr Blair reflected on devolution and the creation of the Scottish Parliament during his time in office as a “success” and said: “20 years on, my ultimate reflection is that it was an attempt to find a way of reconciling the need for a nation a such as Scotland to have far-greater power and control over its own affairs while still remaining part of a larger alliance that could help the interests of that nation state in a changing world.
“I still think the same argument applies to Britain’s place in Europe and I hope that maybe out of all the turmoil of these past years, we are able to get to a place where our politics better reflects that view.
“If it does, we may find that this populist surge which has distorted our politics and politics around the world over these past years finally exhausts itself and allows us to get back to the true principles and true activity of governing in the interests of the people.”
Addressing the Labour Party’s shift “further left than ever before”, Mr Blair suggested there is a “huge opportunity” for Scottish Labour to embrace a pro-union and pro-EU position.
He said: “My belief is that it will be clear over these next months that there is the potential for a renewal of the centre ground of politics.
“That’s true in the UK as a whole and I think that’s true in Scotland as well. With the departure of Ruth Davidson from the scene of politics in Scotland, there is a very open space for the competition for that centre-ground vote.”