Boris Johnson’s negotiations with the EU have swapped the Northern Irish backstop for a ‘front stop’, leaving MPs to vote on a ‘pointless Brexit’, says former prime minister Tony Blair.
Yet the Remain cause is losing out due to public frustration with a process as complicated as “rocket science”, he wrote.
The former Labour leader said in an opinion piece that Brexit has become so complex that even “seasoned experts” find its twists and turns hard to follow.
“The trouble with Brexit is that at a certain level it is rocket science,” he wrote in the Huffington Post. “I am constantly re-impressed by the madness of thinking we could ever take a decision of such import and complexity through a simple “yes/no”, “in/out” one-off vote on one day.”
Blair, who supports remaining in the EU, continued: “The details, twists and turns of the debate are hard to follow even for seasoned experts. For the public with a day job, it’s next to impossible.”
Brexiteers gave the country the “insanity” of the Brexit process, but as they challenge its complexities with court actions and parliamentary debate, Remainers are taking the blame, he wrote.
He said: “The Remain side is in danger of winning the process battle but losing the battle for public opinion, such is the fatigue.”
It’s this public anger that is leading some Labour MPs to accept Boris Johnson’s deal, he said, even though it does not take a no-deal Brexit off the table as promised.
Both Lisa Nandy and Gloria di Piero, both of whom have Leave-voting constituencies, said they will back the deal because their voters consider Brexit an “article of faith” – even though they don’t agree with all of its contents.
Even Jim Fitzpatrick, whose Poplar and Limehouse constituency voted nearly 66% to remain, said he will vote for the deal because, he said, “people pay me to make decisions”.
Blair said that some MPs like this are being “intimidated” by a government and rightwing press line that says those who scrutinise Brexit are “fools, knaves and con merchants”.
Yet the Withdrawal Agreement has numerous flaws, wrote Blair.
“Agreeing the deal won’t end the Brexit saga because the deal does not resolve the future relationship between Britain and Europe, which is subject to a new negotiation,” says the piece.
“No-deal is not off the table because it remains a very possible outcome to that negotiation.”
In fact, Boris Johnson has given the UK a “pointless Brexit” – one in which Northern Ireland will be bound by EU rules, but will have no say in them.
“What happened is that Boris Johnson caved in and agreed that Northern Ireland would stay within that system,” said Blair. “The backstop became a frontstop. And he therefore sold out the DUP and left a division between Britain and Northern Ireland.”
But it’s the future trade negotiations, which run the risk of a whole new ‘no-deal’ deadline, that provide the real challenge, he said.
While promising Labour MPs that he won’t compromise on workers’ rights and the environment, he is also telling Brexiteers that no deal – which would allow for these things – is excluded.
“Think the Irish negotiation was a nightmare? Wait for this one,” he wrote.