I am Tony Blair, ask me anything

PUBLISHED: 10:24 08 December 2016 | UPDATED: 12:47 08 December 2016

Tony Blair

Tony Blair

PA Wire/PA Images

You asked and he answered – the former Prime Minister talks Brexit, Labour, Trump, Iraq and world politics

BREXIT

65% of the total electorate did not vote to stay in the EU and 52% of those who voted in the referendum opted to withdraw from the EU; why can’t you accept the biggest ever democratic mandate made by the British people and all pull together to make it work? Jason Jones

This is a sensible question and I completely understand the sentiment behind it. I do accept the mandate. And of course in theory pulling together ‘to make it work’ is right. If it can be ‘made to work’ and the Government comes through with a solution which protects the British economy and preserves British influence over things Europe does which profoundly affect us, then even though I will still disagree with leaving, frankly I will have to lump it. The anxiety I have is that it can’t be made to work. Sure, we can leave. But I assume by working you mean we end up with something good or satisfactory, not just that we exit no matter what the cost.

And here is the rub. Some voted Leave because they have a rooted ideological objection to Europe in the same way that I have a rooted belief in it. I believe in the European ideal not merely the cost/benefit accounting analysis of it.

But many approached this referendum on the basis not of ideology but because they believed it was more gain than pain to Leave. They thought, because they were told, there would be more money for the NHS. Immigration would be curtailed. We would ‘take back control’ and would do it without financial downside.

Suppose that gain/pain ratio shifts. Suppose it becomes clear that there isn’t more money for the NHS but actually less; that more jobs will go than come; that most of the immigration will stay and so will the loss of growth and the drop in the value of the currency.

In other words, supposing when people see the actual proposition of Leave, where facts have replaced claims, they think this is not a good idea.

Literally all I am arguing is that in those circumstances they should have the right to say: what you told us has turned out to be wrong and so we have changed our mind.

What would be the most practical and effective way for me and others to fight Brexit, whilst at the same time trying to win over as many from the Leave side as possible? Anthony McHarg

The best thing is to keep the whole process under scrutiny and as the facts and choices emerge spell out their implications. We have to show people what this means in their lives, how it will affect the things they care about. One interesting and alarming by-product of Brexit is that the NHS is actually tottering towards collapse right now. Yet tell me how much publicity this receives? How much Government attention? How much of the time and energy of the PM?

There is something truly surreal about our present situation. Here is a Government headed by a PM and Chancellor proclaiming the virtues of a policy a short while ago both were telling us was a disaster, as all the huge challenges the country really faces – education, the NHS, social care, welfare and poverty – go unaddressed or at least unprioritised.

The most persuasive argument is: judge what is happening against what you were told.

How can centre ground voters who are currently supporting the Conservative, Lib Dem and Labour parties come together under an effective leadership as a powerful force to campaign for and hopefully secure a second referendum? R Levacic

It’s a really important question. Right now there will be a lot of different organisations springing up with basically the same idea and, of course, active politicians in every party. The purpose of the discussions I am having is to allow people to interact and to discuss strategy across the party divide. We need to be in possession of the right information, work out the best arguments and build an effective network of like-minded people. I will play my part but so will organisations like Open Britain, Common Ground, More United and others.

However, I agree at some point we have to coordinate. A second referendum will be heavily disputed at present. But we should keep all options open.

I like the way you’ve spoken out against this Brexit nonsense, but do you think you can play a positive role (given your historical baggage) and what would that be? Judy Mason

I am absolutely aware of the ‘baggage’. I’m speaking because I believe so passionately that this decision is an historic and catastrophic mistake. I will be – am being – heavily attacked for saying so. And I am honestly not sure what role I can play. But I care about the country I led for 10 years and rather than worry about my role I am just going to participate in the debate and if people want to listen that is great and, if not, I understand.

Why do you think Brexit has caused such a dramatic implosion of the centre ground, with so few MPs willing to loudly defend and represent that liberal position? Sarah Murphy

The centre only succeeds when it takes account of people’s legitimate concerns and acts on them. This is an era of change and worry about change. The centre has to provide answers to those worries, to questions on security, immigration, the feeling of people being left behind by the process of globalisation and of stagnating incomes. The centre must again become the place of change-making. Take immigration. We can’t just write off everyone who is worried about migrants as a racist; we have to listen to concerns that people have and have a balanced sensible policy of rules but not prejudices.

As I’ve always said: migrants have had a positive impact to our society. They provide a net benefit to our economy, with the recent OBR forecast saying reduced migration as a result of the referendum vote could cost £6 billion a year over the next few years. But it is not just economic. A city like London thrives in the modern world because of its open nature and its mix of people, cultures and faith. But immigration is now a key concern, not just in the UK but in Europe. And unless the centre provides answers to these problems, others come along and ride the anger.

How do you reconcile anger with free movement with desire for single market membership? Lap Gong Leong

Free movement of goods, services, capital and people is part of the single market. Obviously in principle it is a good thing not bad because it allows business and commerce to flow effectively. The problem for Britain is that we have had larger flows of migration from the rest of Europe than others. So though people see, in principle, the benefit of the single market, they think we have no control over numbers and that in certain circumstances that causes pressure and problems. Unfortunately we have been unable to find a compromise which allows us to retain membership of the market whilst dealing with the pressures. But we should continue to seek such a compromise.

Leaving the single market altogether would leave us deeply exposed economically and potentially lose many thousands of jobs and make us a poorer country.

What do you think about proposals that Brits could pay to retain the benefits of EU citizenship? Lewis Deakin

I think if that happened people would wonder why we were leaving in the first place.

The Iraq war damaged your premiership and drowned out many of your successes such as funding the NHS and Northern Ireland. What steps can you take to regain your ‘popularity and credibility’ and influence the Brexit turmoil? Mark Jolliffe

I know a lot of people feel very passionately about the Iraq War, I fully respect that. If you want to see what I said in detail in response, then you can read my full statement on the day of Chilcot. But in the end, people can decide: either they wish to listen to what I have to say or not. And you’re absolutely right of course to point out the huge number of positive things about the record in Government.

Should Nigel Farage be made a Lord? Peter Swale, Glasgow

Don’t mind :)

The “Remain” campaign needs a credible, nationally recognised leader. Who do you think this person could be? Charles S. Rothwell

Right now I think we need ideas, networks and energy rather than ‘A Leader’. But in time someone could emerge. But the most important thing is to build the campaign.

LABOUR

The Labour Party has betrayed the EU through its unconvincing performance in the referendum campaign and its mealy-mouthed response to the result. I am tempted to resign from the party in protest: is there any reason why I shouldn’t? Jonathan Rée

I understand the dismay at our campaign during the referendum but I hope you stay because we need you to!

How can we get the Labour Party to oppose Brexit? Judy Mason

By giving its MPs confidence that holding the Government to account over the costs of Brexit is not betraying the votes of the people in Labour constituencies who voted Leave. And by showing the huge cost in the poorest communities of a Government with a monotrack focus – where all the challenges are second or third order because of the necessity of dealing with Brexit.

Would Tony Blair ever join the Lib Dems as they are more New Labour than Labour? David Boynton

No!

If you were 17 today, which political party would you join if you wanted to enjoy the benefits of membership of the EU? Violetta Sanchez, Barcelona, Catalunya

I wouldn’t choose my party on Brexit alone, but on the broad philosophy of the party I thought most represented my values. That is why I joined Labour. But I would argue within that party for an open and constructive position on Europe. And be prepared to join with others across the political divide to make the case against Brexit.

Are British political structures effectively broken? Is it time for a new party? Nell Maxwell

They aren’t broken, though subject to huge strain. And there is no appetite for a new party. But, the risk we are running at the moment is British politics becoming a choice between a Hard Brexit Tory party and a Hard Left Labour party. Such a choice leaves many millions of people without an obvious political home. What I am doing is not about starting a new party; but about devising a new policy agenda for the progressive forces in politics and combining that with a network of connection which allows people of similar thinking to interact together. And doing it not constrained by party affiliation.

If you had to bet, how long would you say it will be before we’ll see another Labour government? Matthew Jameson

Fortunately I don’t bet. And if you think that is a politician’s way of avoiding the question, you’re right!

TRUMP AND THE USA

Is Donald Trump getting a fair crack of the whip? Richard Carragher, New York City

The media in the USA as in the UK is now heavily polarised and so in one sense it’s hard for anyone to get ‘a fair crack of the whip’ including both presidential candidates. But now he is the president elect we will have to wait and see what policy solutions he actually provides.

What advice would you give Barack Obama on what to do next? Kunal Dutta

I don’t think he needs it; I’m sure he has, or will have, a pretty clear picture of what he wants to do. And I know he’s passionate about young people and education and opportunity. Both he and Michelle have a huge amount to offer in terms of the future of their country and the world more widely. It’s not an easy adjustment; you have a few less people to call on! But I wish them every success.

George W Bush was ridiculed here when he was elected, but you worked closely with him. What advice would you give Theresa May on working with Donald Trump? Sandra Grey, Bristol

I’m sure Theresa May will handle this in her own way. I’m reluctant to give “advice” to any of my successors. Having done the job myself I know how difficult it is. But it is always a good thing for the British PM and the USA President to work together closely and once you work on issues with someone, it becomes a lot less about things people have said than things you’re actually doing.

WORLD POLITICS

Do you think western leaders made a huge mistake not intervening in Syria. or/and Would you have intervened in Syria? Sali Rizahu

As a result of my experience in Iraq and Afghanistan, in Syria, as I argued with Libya too, it would have been better, if it had been possible, to have had an agreed process of change even if it meant for a transitional period leaving the existing leadership in place as the change happened.

However, once it became clear this was not on the cards, then, as I have said, yes I would have been more active on Syria. I believe we will pay a heavy price for it in years to come.

With the full view from Iraq in 2003 to the present day we now have examples of various alternative courses of action. In Iraq we intervened on the ground and it was difficult. In Libya we partially intervened, that was difficult. In Syria, we didn’t intervene and, in my judgement, that has had truly dire consequences.

What recent events in Europe - in Brussels and Paris - show is that even if you think you can stay out of something like this it comes to you in the end.

Is Vladimir Putin a threat to world peace? George Fenerty, Birmingham

There is no simple answer to that. I disagree strongly with some of Russia’s actions over recent years. On the other hand, we need to work with Russia to solve some of the world’s most pressing problems, not least extremism.

Does the abuse you get on Twitter and elsewhere get you down? Do you worry about what people think about you? Theo Kelly, 11, Highbury, London

It’s the way world is and it’s a shame because we should be able to exchange views with respect not abuse!‎ And I detest the Twitter trolling etc aimed often at vulnerable people.

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