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Coffee House

Tony Blair is pessimistic about the chances that Europe will change

15 June 2013

2:21 PM

15 June 2013

2:21 PM

Tony Blair has plenty to say on the crisis in Syria in his interview in today’s Times, as you might expect. But he also makes a few points on other aspects of foreign policy that are worth noting, particularly regarding Europe. The former Prime Minister tells Alice Thompson and Rachel Sylvester that David Cameron was wrong to offer a referendum on Britain’s membership of the European Union. He says:

‘We should at least pause for thought on this. I can tell you, people around the world now ask about this constantly, with an air of incredulity that Britain should even think of such a thing. Europe will be a lot less effective and probably less effectively run if Britain absents itself. If you pull out, that’s a big decision. You’re going to relegate your influence.’

Blair has previously made clear that he doesn’t like the idea of a referendum. His argument today makes several assumptions. The first is that the referendum will inevitably see a victory for the ‘Out’ camp. The second is that, not unlike Lord Lawson, Blair doesn’t see any room for reform in Europe at all. The referendum is simply an opportunity for Britain to leave, not a way of concentrating the minds of those politicians at the negotiating table.

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Blair doesn’t seem to think that the threat of Britain leaving Europe because it is currently ineffectual will make European leaders sit up and worry. On this, he shares the worries of those who want to leave now. He thinks nothing will change, and that this will lead to Britain voting to leave, although he clearly believes that staying in at all costs is better. But if European leaders find that they, like Angela Merkel, cannot imagine Europe without Britain, they should also then find reform more attractive. Or so goes the argument of the reforming eurosceptic, at least. Those reforming eurosceptics in the Fresh Start Project, who have been holding talks in a number of European cities, remain optimistic. They believe they do have a chance to make Europe more effective and more effectively run, but that currently those descriptions cannot apply.

Mind you, Blair is not the only one: as James reports in his column this week, those with the most experience of European talks don’t think much can come back.

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