For Brexiteers, it is as though Christmas 2018 has come early. A Lord “epiphany on the Austrian ski slopes” Adonis declaration that he will stop Brexit, followed by a Tony Blair intervention suggesting a second referendum on the UK leaving the EU, counts as a terrific double present. For there are few bigger boosters of the Leave cause than Tony Blair. Not only is he a skilled politician long ago rumbled, Blair embodies the Europhile globalised elites rejected by voters.
That being the case, has it really not dawned yet on Blair and the others? The inability of the most hardline ultra-Remainers to process the new reality suggests not. With the move on from the phase one in the Brexit talks in December, Brexit is happening with compromises.
Anything remains possible, of course, such as an economic apocalypse leading British voters to beg for a way back into the EU. But the odds on that occurring are long. With both sides in the talks, in Brussels and London, making positive noises (with some jockeying for position thrown in) about a free trade agreement, and a two year transition on the way, it is hard to see a scenario arising in which Tory rebels vote to halt Brexit cheered on by a decisive majority of voters.
There might yet be a late rally around the idea of Britain staying in the Customs Union, but the negotiations are not going to produce a multiple choice range of options for Parliament to send back. There will almost certainly be the deal, with the momentum of the Commission, the EU 27, and the British team saying “this is what we’ve got, this is it.” The Germans and other countries who pay the bills in the EU are busy and want a deal. To secure it the British will have to make some compromises, which the government understands, but the longer term interests on both sides (the stability of the eurozone, the adjustment for the UK economy, the need of the EU to move on) point towards a settlement. This is, barring a calamity, where it is going. That was the meaning of December. Those who have missed its significance – both ultra-remainers and the hardest Brexiteers – seem increasingly eccentric.
That means that with time running out, the efforts of the Stop Brexit leaders become steadily more poignant and pitiful. Dominic Lawson in the Mail this week nailed the almost comical condition of the group dedicated to stopping Brexit: “Sir Nick Clegg, Lord Heseltine, Lord Adonis, Lord Malloch-Brown, Tony Blair. Truly, Brexit is blessed in its enemies.”
Indeed, Clegg’s Stop Brexit book is one of the funniest books published since the first volume of Spike Milligan’s war memoirs.
It might have been different, perhaps. The Remainers could have played it more cleverly. If the referendum result had been properly accepted – not “oh, I accept the result, but let’s agree this compromise of all but staying in and then we’ll wait for you thicko Leavers to die” – then a cross party campaign for the EEA, or a very soft Brexit, might have built a body of support with proper funding and a social media push. There were quite a few Leavers open to this, but a combination of Tory chaos, Mayite arrogance, moderate leaver confusion, and Remainer miscalculation, meant it was closed down as an option and is gone, lost to history. Anyway, no Leaver was ever going to be persuaded by an offer from Remainers which on even the mildest interrogation turned out to be a sneaky cover for stopping Brexit.
Incidentally, by a wonderful coincidence Blair also found himself at the centre of the explosive Donald Trump book row this week. The sensational tome written by Michael Wolff alleges that Blair went fishing for a job or for influence with the administration. It is claimed that at a meeting in February the former UK Prime Minister told Jared Kushner, Trump’s son-in-law, that British intelligence had been looking at Trump during the election. One hopes they were, within limits, doing exactly that.
Blair denies the claims. That deafening silence you can hear is the sound of the Labour party and almost everyone else not rushing to defend him. Of course, Blair may well be telling the truth, but how can we tell? He would not – surely – have gone to visit Jared Kushner alone and neglected to have the thing transcribed clearly by a team member, when the new White House is so flaky? That would be mad, especially when Blair has been stung in the past over the disputed nature of his dealings with the Bush White House. We await the transcripts…
But what is it with Tony Blair? Why was he even there with Kushner? Can’t he get a hobby? I suppose he was there because his lucrative business and private diplomacy rests on the questionable idea that he is the post-modern Henry Kissinger, always plugged in globally, always in the know, always on the ball. Funnily enough, it is the country he used to run that now seems to be the biggest mystery to Blair.