Alex Massie

Tony Blair is right about Brexit

Tony Blair is right about Brexit
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I don't know about you but if I were to make a speech arguing that democracy should be abandoned, I probably wouldn't begin by saying 'I want to be explicit. Yes, the British people voted to leave Europe. And I agree the will of the people should prevail.'

That's just me, however. When Tony Blair says this, he apparently means to encourage an anti-democratic insurrection. Which, I suppose, makes sense if you still suffer from an acute case of Blair Derangement Syndrome. Plenty of people evidently do.

If Blair is really as toxic and irrelevant as his critics aver, there'd be no need for all this fury. Blood vessels could remain unburst and eyes unpopped. The reaction to Blair's speech suggests something else. It suggests that he must have a point. The very virulence of the manner in which his speech has been traduced hints at some dark but gnawing fear deep within the Brexit psyche: the fear of being found out. Because if that weren't the case you could just greet Blair's remarks with a shrug.

Evidently, that's impossible. Special marks, by the way, are awarded to the foreign secretary who, despite being an enthusiastic supporter of the Iraq War, responded to Blair's speech by suggesting it could and should be ignored because Blair took the UK to war in Iraq.

Be that as it may, hear this: some things can be true even when they are said by Anthony Charles Lynton Blair. For instance:'How hideously, in this debate, is the mantle of patriotism abused'. How, seriously, can anyone sensibly disagree with this? Brexiteer rhetoric condemns 48 percent of the electorate as nothing more than lickspittle sell-outs. Craven souls who lack the courage to 'take back control' and instead prefer to 'talk Britain down' whenever the opportunity arises. These people, fat on their messes of Brussels pottage, never miss an opportunity to observe that Britain is too small, too stupid and probably too poor to make a fist of things without the comforting cushion of EU membership.

What nonsense. And outrageous nonsense at that. Since when did questioning the government become inappropriate? At what point, and by whom, was it decreed that dissent is unconscionable? Brexit means Brexit, so pipe down at the back there. Don't you realise you lost? So shut-up, you, you, you Remoaner you.

When Blair observes that 'the ideologues are the ones driving this bus' he is, again, correct. If this were not the case, Nigel Farage, a man previously considered toxic by even the official Leave campaign, would be in no position to declare himself wholly satisfied by the approach the government is taking. It was Dan Hannan, apparently Brexit's greatest intellectual, who says his mission in life was to persuade Britain to 'get out of the European Union, at whatever cost'. Is it really unreasonable to ask if the cost is likely to prove eye-wateringly expensive? Apparently so and yet the official line of Brexit patriotism - as swaggering as it is oafish - declares such questioning tantamount to treason.

The arrogance of this! The sheer effrontery of claiming one side - a side that only narrowly prevailed, by the way - has a monopoly on patriotism! That only one side can be allowed to make an argument in favour of its own definition of the national interest. Some of us endured quite enough of this at the hands of Alex Salmond and his colleagues in 2014 and we've little appetite for hearing the same things, couched in the same bullying rhetoric, from the likes of Boris, Michael, Liam, David and Theresa. Saying 'we're going to make a success of this' is all very well and good but does not actually make making a success of it any more likely.

Perhaps Brexit really will offer a path to the sunlit uplands of greater prosperity. Let us hope so. But what if it doesn't? What if the present trend of encouraging economic data peters out as Brexit actually happens? All Blair has done today is suggest that those who think Brexit sub-optimal should continue to make their case so that, should public opinion change, a new course could be contemplated. There should be nothing terribly controversial about this, not even when its suggested by someone like Tony Blair.

The chutzpah of the Leavers knows no bounds, however. Before the referendum Farage made it clear that a narrow defeat - by, say, four points - would not end the matter. It would just be a staging post on the road to another referendum. Does anyone think Farage was the only Brexiteer to think this? Come on. If your life's work were dedicated to removing Britain from the EU why should anything as minor as a referendum defeat cause you to fold your tent and retire? In like fashion, the SNP's commitment to another Scottish referendum might be tiresome but it's hardly disreputable. They have their right to make their argument.

But so, in this instance, do those who think Brexit might yet prove an alarming mistake. At the very least they are utterly entitled to note there are many kinds of Brexit and the one to which we are currently hurtling is one condemned by the Prime Minister and her Chancellor less than a year ago. What was folly then is now rebranded as wisdom and the settled will of the British people. Again, come on.

Meanwhile, nothing else happens. Everything is seen through the Brexit lens. The government is consumed by Brexit but has yet to offer the barest hint it knows how it can actually achieve what it says it wants to accomplish. The people, bless them, are fobbed off with the suggestion they should simply trust their government because it will all be alright on the night.

Let us hope that proves the case. Let us hope the government does know what it is doing. If that be the case, however, they have done a damn fine job of disguising it. Instead, however, we must endure shrieking about how Britain is now, once again, a free country that has slipped the chains of its Belgian bondage and, far from laughing at such twaddle, we must treat it with some measure of awed reverence. What nonsense.

Written byAlex Massie

Alex Massie is Scotland Editor of The Spectator. He also writes a column for The Times and is a regular contributor to the Scottish Daily Mail, The Scotsman and other publications.