Tony Blair thinks he has discovered a form of words that could lead to the reversal of the EU referendum result. When the vote was taken voters did not know the exact terms of our departure. When they become clear, people might change their minds.
The mistake in this line of spin is that the vote to leave was taken whatever the terms might be. It was said time and again during the campaign that the worst outcome – trading with the EU under the rules of the World Trade Organisation (WTO) – would be just fine. In fact, there were many who saw this outcome as the ideal to aim for. It is, after all, the framework for trade between the vast majority of the world’s nations.
It would mean paying tariffs on our exports to the EU according to the common external tariff, and we in in our turn would be able to charge the same tariffs on imports from the EU. The massive thousand-page manifesto of the official Leave campaign, Change or Go, explained what the cost would be and put forward ideas for supporting those industrial sectors that would be disadvantaged in the short run.
Updated figures show that the UK Treasury would benefit from the application of current EU tariffs to our imports. At 2015 trade volumes, our exporters would have to pay tariffs of £5.2 billion to the EU and EU exporters would have to pay the UK Treasury £12.9 billion.
The 2016 vote was a decision to leave whatever the terms might be. No detail in the eventual negotiated package could make the slightest difference. The worst case was known to everyone and was seen as a big improvement on the continued loss of independence entailed by membership.
Leaving the EU was striking a blow for freedom. It was also a renunciation of the manipulative political ethos that dominated the Blair era. The EU was the project of a narrow self-chosen oligarchy that saw itself as entitled to rule because its members were more clever and righteous than the mass of people. They continue to see the accountability of power provided by national democracies as their worst enemy. Blair is Britain’s paramount EU oligarch who seems incapable of moving on. The EU began as a project for rebuilding Europe after the second world war, but the world now faces new problems while Mr Blair is still locked in the post-war mindset.
He got into power by copying the methods of President Clinton’s 1992 presidential campaign. Prepared to say anything if it helped to win votes, he developed to a fine art techniques for saying two opposite things without anyone noticing, and deployed the device of picking a fight with loyal supporters, such as trade unions and working-class voters, in order to win over wealthier voters. Allies could safely be insulted because ‘they had nowhere else to go’.
The 2016 referendum signalled not only the end of the supremacy of EU oligarchs but also struck a blow against the culture of propagandist opinion management in which Mr Blair specialised.
The strategy of EU rulers has always been to keep on pushing until they get their way. If referendums go against them, then make the people vote again. Mr Blair is trying to continue this tradition, but we all knew exactly what we were doing in 2016. The negotiations may or may not have a beneficial outcome, but they have no bearing on the decision to leave.
David Green is CEO of Civitas