Sir Tony Blair admits Brexit is not going to be reversed ‘any time soon’ at gathering of Remainers and soft-Left allies – as he insists his ‘Blairfest’ conference is NOT the launch of a new political party
- Former PM Sir Tony Blair admits Brexit is not going to be reversed ‘any time soon’
- Ex-Labour premier speaks at his ‘ideas conference’ in London – dubbed ‘Blairfest’
- He denies his ‘Future of Britain’ conference is the start of a new political party
The former Labour prime minister – a fierce opponent of the UK’s departure from the EU and among those who pushed for a second referendum – acknowledged the debate had now been settled.
But he cited Brexit as one of the current challenges facing the UK, adding: ‘The stuff in Northern Ireland is doing us damage.’
Sir Tony denied that his ‘Future of Britain’ conference was the precursor to setting up a new political vehicle for himself, despite frequent rumours that he could try and lead a new ‘centrist’ movement.
He said: ‘You’ve got two main political parties, I don’t see that changing.’
Delivering a keynote address at the conference this afternoon, the former premier praised Sir Keir Starmer’s ‘amazing’ job in reforming Labour after taking over from Jeremy Corbyn.
But, speaking to former BBC correspondent Jon Sopel, he warned that Sir Keir still needed to ‘seal the deal’ with British voters before he could win a general election.
Sir Tony, 69, stepped up pressure on the Labour leader to set out his policy agenda and suggested Sir Keir adopt some of the ‘progressive’ ideas his guests had been debating today.
He added that those who voted for the Liberal Democrats at the recent by-election in Tiverton and Honiton – which dealt a fresh blow to Boris Johnson’s leadership – needed to feel comfortable with the prospect of a Labour government ahead of the next Westminster contest.
But Sir Tony played down suggestions of a ‘non-aggression pact’ being struck between Labour and the Lib Dems ahead of the general election.
With many predicting a some form of Labour-Lib Dem coalition if the next election results in a hung Parliament, he said: ‘The party that is going to be the party dominating the government has got to be electable in its own right.’
He admitted there was a ‘big struggle’ for centrist politics, but pointed to the victory of Joe Biden in the US as offering hope.
‘Does that mean the fight is over? No. But it means it is not a hopeless fight,’ Sir Tony added.
Sir Tony Blair hosted a ‘Future of Britain’ conference in central London, with the former PM warning the UK is currently facing problems ‘every bit as serious’ as the post-War period
Sir Tony insisted Labour had ‘recovered its basic poise and clarity’ under Sir Keir Starmer’s leadership. But the ex-PM stepped up pressure on the Labour leader to set out his policies
Other figures to have been invited to Sir Tony’s ‘ideas conference’ include ex-Tory Cabinet ministers Rory Stewart and David Gauke
The ex-premier had earlier warned that ‘a new politics and new policies’ were needed, saying the UK is currently facing problems ‘every bit as serious’ as the post-War period.
Those invited to his conference included ex-Tory Cabinet ministers Rory Stewart – a former leadership candidate – and David Gauke, as well as Conservative peer Baroness Ruth Davidson and Labour MP Peter Kyle – a member of Sir Keir’s shadow cabinet.
Welcoming guests this morning, Mr Blair said: ‘This is not a new party. But it is about a new politics and the new policies which we need to make sure that any agenda we have works and endures for the future.
‘And the context is simple and stark. Britain faces challenges that are unprecedented in recent times.
‘Some like the technology revolution, and achieving net zero we share with other nations. Some, like Brexit are unique to Britain.
‘With a cost of living crisis, and the shadow of recession looming, we can’t afford to continue as we are.
‘We need to plan and prepare for a new world. And this is our way of starting this is not a new party.’
Sir Tony suggested French President Emmanuel Macron had also been due to appear at the conference today, if he had not had to attend this week’s Nato summit in Spain.
The former Labour leader has previously been rumoured to have been planning the creation of a new political movement in Britain modelled on Mr Macron’s ‘En Marche!’ group.
Sir Tony claimed that, if Sir Keir’s predecessor Jeremy Corbyn had remained as Labour leader – or a similar figure from Labour’s left had replaced him – then ‘British politics would have had to broken up in some way’.
The ex-PM dismissed suggestions he was still planning to create a new UK political party, as he insisted Labour had ‘recovered its basic poise and clarity’ under Sir Keir’s leadership.
But Sir Tony did not back away from his recent criticism that Sir Keir was ‘struggling to break through with the public’, as called on Labour to set out its policy agenda.
He also appeared to suggest Sir Keir should adopt those New Labour-style ideas that were due to be discussed at his conference.
‘The Labour Party is getting better all the time,’ he told BBC Radio 4’s Today programme.
‘I think Keir has done an amazing job given what he inherited after the Corbyn years.
‘But the Labour Party itself is saying, “we’re going to set out a policy agenda later this year and into next”.
‘In a way this conference – the ideas we’re putting forward are available for anybody – but the purpose in part, from my perspective, is to say to the Labour Party “look, if we’re going to win the next election, it’s got to be as a modern, forward-looking progressive party that’s not concentrating on the old Leftist shibboleth, but is rather understanding the modern world and able to harness things like the technological revolution in the right way”.
‘And if Labour sets out its stall with those types of ideas, that is what can seal the deal with the British people.’
Pressed about what more Sir Keir needed to do to become prime minister, Sir Tony added: ‘Create the policy agenda that makes it absolutely clear what type of Labour Party we are.
‘He is entirely capable of doing that. I have had several conversations with him, we speak regularly to members of the Labour Party shadow cabinet – there are really good people there.
‘And the changes he’s made so far, and the Labour Party, have been good.
‘But we’ve got to be absolutely frank with ourselves, if we want to win, it’s going to be on the basis that people are absolutely clear what Labour is and what it stands for.’
Sir Tony denied his ‘Future of Britain’ conference was the precursor to setting up a new political vehicle for himself, despite rumours he could try and lead a ‘centrist’ movement
Explaining why he had organised today’s conference, Sir Tony insisted that Britain was ‘in a very tight spot’ and was ‘at serious risk of being relegated both in economic and political terms’.
‘Next year our growth is going to be the lowest of any of the G20 other than Russia, we’ve got real problems on productivity, we’ve got a cost-of-living crisis, a looming recession,’ he added.
‘The conference today will focus in part also on what I call the three revolutions we’re living through with no plan.
‘A technology revolution, a 21st century equivalent of the 19th century industrial revolution; you’ve got a net-zero ambition – absolutely right but hugely difficult to achieve; and we’ve done Brexit, which is a fact, we’ve done it, but we’ve got to fix the problems and the consequences of it.
‘Quite apart from the geo-political upheavals with Ukraine, we’re in a situation where short-term and long-term the country’s got big problems.
‘This is an attempt to bring people together from across the political spectrum and say, “how do we fix it and what is the plan for the country’s future?”.’
‘The problem at the moment is our politics is just politics.
‘When the situation, I would say, today is every bit as serious as it was in 60s, in the 70s, or even after the Second World War.’