UK set to ‘slip gently into lower league’ of nations, warns Tony Blair

Britain heading for ‘1970s’-style decline, says former Labour PM in attack on government

Adam Forrest
Thursday 20 January 2022 22:47 GMT
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UK set to ‘slip gently into lower league’ of nations, warns Tony Blair

Sir Tony Blair has warned that the UK is on course to “slip gently into a lower league” of nations, as he accused Boris Johnson of lacking a coherent plan for government.

The former Labour prime minister said that without a radical shift in policy Britain faces “a steady, inexorable compound decline, similar to the 1960s and 1970s”.

Sir Tony said that whether or not Mr Johnson survives the Partygate scandal, Downing Street’s biggest problem is the absence of a plan for the country’s future.

“There is a gaping hole in the governing of Britain where new ideas should be,” Sir Tony said during a speech at Imperial College London on Thursday. “It needs a plan … At present, there isn’t one.”

The former PM also attacked the government’s approach to Brexit – saying the desire to diverge from the EU had caused “substantial” economic damage. “We can alter our political and legal relationship with Europe, but we cannot change our interests or our geography,” he said.

Sir Tony added: “The government doesn’t have a post-Brexit regulatory strategy and it is letting passive divergence from EU rule exacerbate costs for businesses for no purpose, deepening an already substantial economic hit from Brexit itself.”

The former prime minister said Brexit, the technological revolution and climate change present an unprecedented set of challenges which the government is “ill-prepared” to address.

Sir Tony also said the government’s “levelling up” agenda did little to clarify the real issues for the UK. “The slogan risks misdirecting the framing of the country’s problem. We face a national challenge – all the country, not simply the areas ‘left behind’.”

The former PM said he did not want to get “drawn into” the Partygate scandal at a question-and-answer session at the Institute of Global Health Innovation-hosted event.

But he did say: “Things were very different in my day at Downing Street and the way the government was run … Whatever happens to him – and I can’t affect that, that’s a matter for inquiries and the Conservative party – the problem is the absence of a plan.”

The former Labour leader praised Sir Keir Starmer said the party was “thankfully emerging with renewed vigour [and] a talented front bench” from “the catastrophe of the Corbyn era”.

He also praised the economic plan set out by shadow chancellor Rachel Reeves, saying it showed “a healthy desire to erase the memory of four successive defeats”, adding: “It could provide the plan the country needs. As Keir himself acknowledges, this is the challenge for 2022.”

Asked whether he would want Britain to rejoin the EU in future, Sir Tony said: “It would be a political error to revive the whole argument – you just have to accept that, no matter how passionately opposed to it I was.

“But I think the thing to focus on is … you need a relationship, and let’s make it a practical one. Let’s make it work. You don’t want a situation where your prime minister is not on good terms with European leaders.”

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