Withdrawal from Europe would be 'monumental error', says Tony Blair

 

Tony Blair warned today that it would be “a monumental error of statesmanship” for Britain to turn its back on Europe.

And the former Prime Minister said that David Cameron's policy of renegotiating the UK's position in the European Union would pave the way for withdrawal.

Leaving the EU would be "politically debilitating, economically damaging and hugely destructive of Britain's true long term interests", said Mr Blair.

Speaking to a business audience at foreign affairs thinktank Chatham House in London, Mr Blair said: "Europe is a destiny we will never embrace easily. But it is an absolutely essential part of our nation remaining a world power politically and economically.

"It would be a monumental error of statesmanship to turn our back on it and fall away from a crucial position of power and influence in the 21st century."

Mr Cameron has indicated that he wants to renegotiate the UK's relations with the EU, with the prospect of a referendum on the outcome following the general election. But he is resisting pressure from within his own party for an in/out referendum.

Amid speculation that Ed Miliband may be considering committing Labour to an in/out poll, Mr Blair said it was not "sensible" to be talking about a referendum at this point.

And he warned that Mr Cameron's position may mask a desire to pull the UK out of the EU.

"Let's be very clear about this 'renegotiating the terms of membership' line," said Mr Blair.

"This is the refuge of those who want to leave but want to persuade people that it's really just an adjustment of our relationship. Then in the course of the adjustment, when the going gets very rough - as it will - they will then say 'Well it's a pity but now it seems adjustment is not enough'.

"Don't go down this path unless we are prepared to follow it all the way."

While refraining from commenting directly on how Mr Cameron should handle eurosceptics in his own party, Mr Blair made clear he believes some Tories have developed an irrational fixation on withdrawal.

"The right have got it really bad on this Europe thing and it is a kind of virus that makes you want to take positions for the sake of asserting them, when a rational analysis says you don't need to be in that position," he said.

In a globalised world that will increasingly be dominated by emerging giants like China and India, Britain needs the "heft" of the EU to exert an influence internationally and support its own interests on issues like trade, climate change and defence, he said.

And he said the UK can best use its influence to shape the EU by making clear it wishes to remain at its heart.

Despite the current crisis in the eurozone, Mr Blair argued that "the rationale for Europe today is stronger not weaker than it was back 66 years ago when the project began".

But he said: "It is different. Then the rationale was peace. Today it is power. Then it was about a continent ravaged by war in which Germany had been the aggressor and Britain the victor. Today it is about a world in which global geo-politics is undergoing its biggest change for centuries.

"Power is shifting West to East. China has emerged, with its economy opening up, one which will grow eventually to be the world's largest. Its population is three times that of the whole of the EU. India has over a billion people. Brazil is two times the size of the largest European country, Indonesia three times and there are a host of countries including Russia, Turkey, Mexico, Vietnam, the Philippines and Egypt larger today than any single EU nation."

He warned that, outside the European Union, Britain would "count for less" on the world stage.

"In this new world, to leverage power, you need the heft of the EU," said Mr Blair.

"This is true in economics, in trade, in defence, foreign policy and global challenges such as climate change. It gives us a weight collectively that on our own we lack.

"It is not complex. It really is that simple. I rather like the idealism of Europe's early founders. But actually this has nothing to do with idealism. It is brutal realpolitik.

"In a world in which China and India will both have populations 20 times that of the UK, we need the EU to help pursue our national interest. With it, we count for more. Without it, we count for less."

With the EU currently in "tumult" over the future of the single currency and its institutions, it was "the last moment conceivable that we should start talking about leaving... marginalising ourselves at the very point at which we should be at the centre of things", said Mr Blair.

"Instead we should be building alliances and, more than that, originating ideas, not just responding to them.

"The truth about Europe's public opinion is that when Britain argues its case in Europe and about Europe, it is far more popular than that advanced by many others. But when Britain makes a case against Europe it deprives us of the credibility to win the argument that matters."

With other EU states preoccupied by the euro crisis, "the field is wide open for the UK to seize the initiative" on shaping the future of the bloc, rather than "waiting passively to consider an agenda set by others", he said.

"If the strategic rationale for Europe remains strong, then it cannot be in Britain's interests either for us to be marginal to the debate about its future or indifferent to its outcome.

"But if we want to participate we have to do so not just as Brits but as Europeans, not semi-detached because we are contemplating the option of leaving, but in the thick of it because we intend fully to remain at the heart of it."

Mr Blair acknowledged that it was wrong for pro-Europeans to argue that the UK could not survive outside the EU, but said: "We should ask not could it be done, but is it wise?"

It was a "delusion" to suggest that a UK outside the EU would be like Norway or Switzerland, because of the very different natures of the countries and their economic positions, he said.

And he argued that Britain would face "three major disadvantages" from withdrawal - the loss of its global leadership role, an inability to take part in decision-making on the single market and a diminished opportunity to co-operate on issues like climate change, trade and foreign policy.

Churchill decided not to join the EU when it was first established, and Britain spent the next two decades trying to get in, said Mr Blair.

And he added: "This turmoil in Europe will produce a new settlement in Europe probably as momentous as any since those days of 66 years ago. We should not make the same mistake twice.

"This time whatever the challenges, we should put our shoulders to the wheel and be part of the collective effort to make Europe strong and effective once more."

PA

Suggested Topics
Sport
David Moyes and Louis van Gaal
football
Sport
New Zealand fly-half Aaron Cruden pictured in The Zookeeper's Son on a late-night drinking session
rugby
News
Liam Payne has attacked the media for reporting his tweet of support to Willie Robertson and the subsequent backlash from fans
peopleBut One Direction star insists he is not homophobic
Arts and Entertainment
A bit rich: Maggie Smith in Downton Abbey
tvSeries 5 opening episode attracts lowest ratings since drama began
PROMOTED VIDEO
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
News
ebooksAn unforgettable anthology of contemporary reportage
News
Jacqueline Bisset has claimed that young women today are obsessed with being 'hot', rather than 'charming', 'romantic' or 'beautiful'
people
Sport
Greg Dyke insists he will not resign as Football Association chairman after receiving a watch worth more than £16,000 but has called for an end to the culture of gifts being given to football officials
football
Life and Style
A new app has been launched that enables people to have a cuddle from a stranger
techNew app offers 'PG alternative' to dating services like Tinder
News
people
Arts and Entertainment
Jake Quickenden sings his heart out in his second audition
tvX Factor: How did the Jakes - and Charlie Martinez - fare?
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Web Application Support Manager

£60000 Per Annum: Clearwater People Solutions Ltd: Our client based in Reigate...

** Secondary Geography Teacher Required In Liverpool **

£120 - £160 per day: Randstad Education Liverpool: Job opportunities for Secon...

** Female PE Teacher Urgently Required In Liverpool **

£120 - £165 per day: Randstad Education Liverpool: Job opportunities for Secon...

** Secondary Maths Teacher Required In Liverpool **

£120 - £165 per day: Randstad Education Liverpool: Job opportunities for Secon...

Day In a Page

A roller-coaster tale from the 'voice of a generation'

Not That Kind of Girl:

A roller-coaster tale from 'voice of a generation' Lena Dunham
London is not bedlam or a cradle of vice. In fact it, as much as anywhere, deserves independence

London is not bedlam or a cradle of vice

In fact it, as much as anywhere, deserves independence
Vivienne Westwood 'didn’t want' relationship with Malcolm McLaren

Vivienne Westwood 'didn’t want' relationship with McLaren

Designer 'felt pressured' into going out with Sex Pistols manager
Jourdan Dunn: Model mother

Model mother

Jordan Dunn became one of the best-paid models in the world
Apple still coolest brand – despite U2 PR disaster

Apple still the coolest brand

Despite PR disaster of free U2 album
Scottish referendum: The Yes vote was the love that dared speak its name, but it was not to be

Despite the result, this is the end of the status quo

Boyd Tonkin on the fall-out from the Scottish referendum
Manolo Blahnik: The high priest of heels talks flats, Englishness, and why he loves Mary Beard

Manolo Blahnik: Flats, Englishness, and Mary Beard

The shoe designer who has been dubbed 'the patron saint of the stiletto'
The Beatles biographer reveals exclusive original manuscripts of some of the best pop songs ever written

Scrambled eggs and LSD

Behind The Beatles' lyrics - thanks to Hunter Davis's original manuscript copies
'Normcore' fashion: Blending in is the new standing out in latest catwalk non-trend

'Normcore': Blending in is the new standing out

Just when fashion was in grave danger of running out of trends, it only went and invented the non-trend. Rebecca Gonsalves investigates
Dance’s new leading ladies fight back: How female vocalists are now writing their own hits

New leading ladies of dance fight back

How female vocalists are now writing their own hits
Mystery of the Ground Zero wedding photo

A shot in the dark

Mystery of the wedding photo from Ground Zero
His life, the universe and everything

His life, the universe and everything

New biography sheds light on comic genius of Douglas Adams
Save us from small screen superheroes

Save us from small screen superheroes

Shows like Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D are little more than marketing tools
Reach for the skies

Reach for the skies

From pools to football pitches, rooftop living is looking up
These are the 12 best hotel spas in the UK

12 best hotel spas in the UK

Some hotels go all out on facilities; others stand out for the sheer quality of treatments