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Tony Blair an Architect of Brexit?

/images/brexit_blair.jpgOne of the issues that concerns me is the understandable preoccupation with the potential consequences of Brexit. Why? Because it seems to me that the current preoccupation with its consequences is at the expense of an analysis and an understanding of its causes. The debate about Brexit's consequences is divisive as well as speculative, along with the more obvious short-term consequences of uncertainty.

Westminster politicians persist with the meaningless and disingenuous phrase "the people of Britain voted to leave the EU". An analysis of the voting patterns across the UK show that London, Northern Ireland and Scotland voted strongly to remain, Wales voted marginally to leave and non-metropolitan England voted very strongly to leave. So "the people of Britain" didn't vote leave but the people of non-metropolitan England, and to a lesser extent Wales, did.

One ex-Westminster politician, Tony Blair, has persistently intervened in the debate on the side of remain and on the side of what has become known as the "People's Vote", which would effectively be a 2nd referendum on Brexit. The problem, as I see it, with the so-called "People's Vote" is that, whatever the result, it would be as divisive as the original referendum outcome. The most recent combined polling from the ESRC  here shows 42% for Leave, 45% for Remain and, crucially, 13% undecided so not much has changed despite the incompetence of the UK Government's negotiating "strategy", the intransigence of the EC and dire warnings about the consequences (again) of Brexit.

So why not consider the causes for a change? It might be the beginnings of a solution to the escaped Brexit genie. The primary cause, it seems to me, is disaffection by the non-metropolitan English. As Anthony Barnett observed in his book "The Lure of Greatness": "...being deprived of a credible, representative power that clearly belongs to you leads to anger with the most remote authority of all, which is blamed as the source of your powerlessness... Unable to exit Britain, the English did the next best thing and told the EU to ‘f*** off'...".

So if the cause of the anger of the non-metropolitan English is their lack of institutional political representation, i.e., they alone amongst the four nations of the UK (plus London) don't have a government or assembly of their own, to whom should we look for an explanation? Well it's Tony Blair whose 1997 General Election victory was cleverly fought, in part, on a promise of devolution, bearing in mind the perception in Scotland that it had been laid to waste by Thatcherism.

The Scots got their Government, as did the Welsh, London and the Northern Irish, albeit in the latter case as a consequence of the Good Friday Agreement. But the English, outside of the very British city of London, got the sop of regional assemblies, which they rejected out of hand in 2004. And that's where Brexit came from. 

Tony Blair was known for "being tough on crime and tough on the causes of crime". He's tough on Brexit too, but seemingly unaware of the causes of Brexit, perhaps because he's one of them?

I made the point that the preoccupation with the speculative consequences of Brexit is at the expense of an understanding of its causes. The constitutional infrastructure of the UK is no longer fit for purpose in a postcolonial world. As Neal Ascherson observes in England Prepares to Leave the World: "While the empire lasted, Englishness dozed quietly under the cloak of Great Britishness. Now the cloak is off, and Englishness wakes in a sour temper." 

It is UK constitutional reform that will be the means of lancing the boil of Brexit divisions. Public figures such as Tony Blair might do well to reflect less on the speculative consequences of Brexit and the need for another equally divisive "People's Vote" and instead reflect more on the causes of Brexit, including his own role as one of Brexit's unwitting architects.

Michael Patterson, August 2018.

Posted Wednesday, August 15th, 2018 by Michael Patterson

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