When Blair wanted an “in or out” EU referendum

John Rentoul

tbmarr 300x197 When Blair wanted an in or out EU referendumTony Blair was on the Andrew Marr show this morning, interviewed by Sian Williams. She did a good job of asking some quite hard questions, although not getting much by way of answers.

On the extension of the “war with terrorism” to north Africa, she asked if the “Islamist ideology” of which he spoke really is “one ideology”. Basically, his answer was yes:

SIAN WILLIAMS: But you talk about an Islamist ideology that the extremist fighters have. There is no one ideology. I mean it’s an umbrella group. This is just bringing together lots of disaffected people under one organisation. It’s not al-Qaeda that you’re fighting in Pakistan and Afghanistan. This is a new kind of threat, isn’t it?

TONY BLAIR: Well it’s linked by very common thread. I mean you’re right in the sense that I’m not suggesting there’s a command and control centre with a designated leader  - that’s absolutely true. But if you look all over the Middle East, North Africa, wider than that - through into Central Asia now – there is an identifiable ideology that’s based on, as I say, a perversion of religion. And you know it may have its many different offshoots, but they’ve got that in common, and so trying to deal with that element of it and being express about it, you know saying right let’s get that out there on the table and see how we deal with it, I think is really, really important.

And on Europe, she found an interesting quotation from Blair’s A Journey, about which he had obviously forgotten. It is worth quoting in full. On the European Constitution, on which Blair in 2004 promised a referendum, he wrote:

Our polls were resolutely against success and not many people believed we could shift them. As ever, I was more sanguine. I thought we might just turn it into a referendum that was effectively: in or out. If France voted yes, Britain might just follow. My advisers disagreed, but I rather fancied mounting a really big public argument on an issue I felt strongly about and on which I was right … So although plainly a tough challenge, I somewhat relished the fight. (p530.)

Now, however, he says an “in or out” referendum is dangerous. This time he just ignored the question and went on to his usual argument about British power in the world:

SIAN WILLIAMS: And you wanted an in-out referendum at one stage. We have to say that. In 2005, on the EU Constitution …

TONY BLAIR:(over) No, no, not an in-out referendum.

SIAN WILLIAMS: Well hang on. “ I thought we might turn it into a referendum that was effectively in or out” is what you say in your memoirs.

TONY BLAIR: Yeah, but …

SIAN WILLIAMS: “I fancied mounting a really big argument on the issue I felt strongly about, and on which I was right. Although plainly a tough challenge, I relished the fight.”

TONY BLAIR: Exactly, but that would have been a referendum saying do you agree the new European Constitution or not. It wouldn’t have been a referendum saying if you don’t, we should leave. Now the fact of the matter is you know if we’d ended up … Look, I had to have a referendum because Europe had proposed a new constitution. I was very reluctant to do that, but in the end I accepted we had to have it. What we are doing in this instance is not … Because this would be perfectly sensible if David Cameron said, “I’ve agreed a certain amount of changes and now I want to put those changes to a referendum.” That’s one thing. It’s the ‘out’ bit of it, because once you put that on the ballot paper, you know you’re then in a situation where who knows what the circumstances will be. And the problem with referendums, which is why you know you should only use them where it’s absolutely necessary, is … I think it was General de Gaulle once said “it’s as much about who asks the question as the question.” So you’ve got to be careful.

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  • Junius

    In Labour’s 1997 manifesto, Tony Blair promised a referendum on a system of PR. With Labour’s huge majority he could have had electoral reform done and dusted, plus an all-elected second chamber, during his premiership. What a legacy to remember him by after being ousted by that palace coup. Instead he decided to concentrate on not banning hunting with dogs and not finding Saddam’s WMD.

    We know Ed Miliband is not at all keen on an in/out referendum, but not much about what he thinks of reform of the electoral system or the second chamber. Doubtless all will become clear in the next couple of years. Perhaps his policy supremo will also have learned it does not look cool for a middle-aged man to go around with his shirt flapping outside his trousers.

    (See your blog: New Labour, the opposite of social democracy?)

  • creggancowboy

    The war in Azawad was caused by the corrupt regime in Bamako. Initially the MNLA were in charge (secular) then Ansar Al’Din and AQIM won support. As for the EU it is merely another rich men’s club.

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