Extracts from Tony Blair’s Open Britain speech on Europe

In his speech at an event hosted by Open Britain tomorrow, Friday 17th February, Tony Blair will say that the British people voted to leave Europe and the will of the people should prevail, but that as the Brexit terms become clear, it is the right of the people to change their mind.

On Brexit, Mr Blair is expected to say: 

“But the people voted without knowledge of the true terms of Brexit. As these terms become clear, it is their right to change their mind.”

“Our mission is to persuade them to do so.”

“This is a Government for Brexit, of Brexit and dominated by Brexit. It is a mono-purpose political entity.”

“Those driving this always wanted a Hard Brexit. Indeed even the term Hard Brexit requires amendment. The policy is now Brexit At Any Cost.

“Our challenge is to expose relentlessly the actual cost, to show how this decision was based on imperfect knowledge which will now become informed knowledge, to calculate in ‘easy to understand’ ways how proceeding will cause real damage to the country and its citizens and to build support for finding a way out from the present rush over the cliff’s edge. 

“I don't know if we can succeed. But I do know we will suffer a rancorous verdict from future generations if we do not try.” 

“This is not the time for retreat, indifference or despair; but the time to rise up in defence of what we believe. 

“How hideously, in this debate, is the mantle of patriotism abused. We do not argue for Britain in Europe because we are citizens of nowhere. We argue for it precisely because we are proud citizens of our country who believe that in the 21st Century, we should maintain our partnership with the biggest political union and largest commercial market right on our doorstep; not in diminution of our national interest, but in satisfaction of it.”

On immigration, he will add:

“It is immigration which is driving this debate and when we boil that down we reduce it to prevention of a fraction of the overall numbers.

“There is in some parts of the country a genuine concern about numbers from Europe – real pressures on services and wages.

“But for many people, the core of the immigration question – and one which I fully accept is a substantial issue - is immigration from non-European countries especially when from different cultures in which assimilation and potential security threats can be an issue.

“Nonetheless, we have moved in a few months from a debate about what sort of Brexit involving a balanced consideration of all the different possibilities; to the primacy of one consideration – namely controlling immigration from the EU – without any real discussion as to why and when Brexit doesn't affect the immigration people most care about.

“Yet we're told we have to stop debating it and just do it.

“This is a great country, with resilient and creative people. And yes, no one is going to write us off. But making the best of a bad job doesn't alter the fact that it isn't wise to put yourself in that position unless you have to.”

On the possibility of the break-up of the UK, he will say:

“In addition to all this, the possibility of the break-up of the UK – narrowly avoided by the result of the Scottish referendum – is now back on the table but this time with a context much more credible for the independence case. 

“We are already seeing the de-stabilising impact of worry over border arrangements on the Northern Ireland peace process.

“None of this ignores the challenges the country faces in common with many other countries: those left behind by globalisation; the aftermath of the financial crisis; stagnant incomes amongst a section of the public; and for sure the pressures posed by big increases in migration which make perfectly reasonable people anxious and feeling unheard in their anxiety.”