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French centrist Macron's win would be a global ‘victory’, says Tony Blair

AFP / Justin Tallis | Britain's former prime minister Tony Blair speaks at an event in central London on July 22, 2015.

Former UK Prime Minister Tony Blair spoke Friday to France’s Le Monde about French presidential frontrunner Emmanuel Macron, his opposition to Brexit, and the challenges facing the left in France and the UK.


Le Monde: Some British observers see Emmanuel Macron as a French version of Tony Blair. Do you consider him your political heir?

Blair: Obviously, Mr. Macron is his own man and isn’t anyone’s heir. What is important is that his election could be a real victory for a more global approach to politics. It could be an opportunity not just for Europe but also for the UK, which needs a strong European Union. I think that Macron represents a [centrist] spirit, a spirit which has echoes in every European country and in the western world in general.

I tried to make Labour a vehicle for that kind of spirit, too. In the UK I would like to see Labour back on that path. Because if we end up limited to a choice between either the conservative supporters of a “hard Brexit” or the current extreme-left Labour [led by Jeremy Corbyn], a lot of people will be left by the wayside with no choice. So the ideas that centrist Macron represents aren’t just limited to France.

How do you explain the fact that social-democratic parties have been ousted in both the UK and France?

It’s very simple. The world is changing faster and faster and the left has to modernise quickly and catch up. That was my idea in 1997 [when Blair won the UK general election under “New Labour”] and it’s still relevant in 2017 […] The progressive left can only win if they know where they are going, demonstrate optimism, and show people that the left can make a difference to their lives. We have to lead the way in explaining how technology will transform our society and our economy, and how a responsible and active government can protect and defend people. If the left retreats into a kind of anti-business isolationism, it’s sure to lose.

Prime Minister Theresa May called snap elections on June 8 in order to secure a popular mandate to strengthen her position for the Brexit negotiations. You’ve criticised Labour leader Jeremy Corbyn for being too passive, and you’ve called on people to vote for MPs who oppose a “hard Brexit”, no matter their party. Are you planning a return to politics?

I’m not returning to front-line politics. But the institute [Tony Blair Institute for Global Change] I’ve created is going to make a strong call for more open-minded policies, and for a return to the centre. Even with the scandals that I seem to bring to every political debate in the UK, my convictions about Brexit remain strong, especially when I think about what the next generation will have to face. Separating from the continent is a serious mistake for Britain. For someone like me, who thinks that Great Britain should play a strong role in Europe, it’s very sad.

Will Brexit play a role in the June 8 elections?

If the opinion polls are right, the conservatives will win the election and Theresa May will remain prime minister. The question is whether there will be a strong enough opposition to force them to fully explain their actions and policies, whether the opposition be Labour, Liberal Democrats, or whoever. There are two things motivating Miss May to call this election: the current chaotic state of the Labour party, and that this is the perfect time for her to get a strong mandate as people do not currently fully realise what the Brexit divorce will really mean for Britain.

Do you think that Brexit could be called into question?

I don’t think you can fight a democratic referendum, but once people see the details of Brexit, they’re going hesitate. I could be wrong, though. It’s a bit like moving house: you’ve agreed on the idea, but you haven’t seen it yet or visited the neighbourhood. That’s what is going to happen next. I think that in the next six months to a year we’re going to see that Brexit is very difficult.

But the polls are currently very much in Theresa May’s favour and she is calling for a “hard Brexit”!

At the moment, right-wing newspapers and people in the street are saying “the experts predicted an economic disaster and it hasn’t happened”. The reality is that the drop in the pound should have made us stop and think. Brexit hasn’t even happened yet and we still don’t know what the terms will be. I think there’s still a long way to go.

The European Union needs to understand that the [Brexit] debate isn’t over and they shouldn’t come to the negotiating table with a hostile attitude. The British people could have second thoughts about Brexit.

Why would British people change their mind?

The price that we are going to pay just to prevent immigrants from entering [due to exit from the single market] is extraordinary. Plus, the public doesn’t have a clear understanding of the difference between belonging to the European single market and being a country with a third-party free-trade deal [which is what the May government wants]. In the latter case, to use a football analogy, you’ll no longer be able to decide whether you’re going to play eleven-a-side, or have a referee, or even what size the goals are going to be. Meaning, utter confusion. Once this reality sets in, there will be a fresh debate about Brexit, its consequences and legitimacy. Brexit only received 52 percent of the vote against 48 percent, so you would only need one fifteenth of them to change their mind.

The idea that the EU is an institution without a future is prevailing in the British media. What do you think about that?

The Eurosceptics are under the sad illusion that Europe is going to give up and collapse. It’s just not the case! The EU has committed some serious mistakes, but the logic behind it is stronger than ever: It’s the geopolitical reality of the 21st century. For mid-sized powers like Germany, France and the UK, the only way to defend their interests is to stay together.

Today, it’s not a question of peace, but of power.

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