Former British Prime Minister Tony Blair Talks Tariffs

BLAIR: No. I think she’s got a really, really tough job. And I always say even when I am criticizing her policy that I accept it comes from a well-intentioned place. But I think she’s going to find that the deal she wants to do now is a deal that one, won’t pass Europe and two, won’t actually pass the views of the British people. And therefore it’s going to be very difficult for it to proceed on that basis.

FROST: You’ve campaigned, you think it’d be good to have a second referendum. You said that loud and clear before. Do you think the chances of that second referendum are higher today than at any point since 2016?

BLAIR: I think — I think the steps to look at it are these. First of all, I don’t think there’s any Brexit proposition that can command majority in the House of Commons. So I think there will at a certain point or may well be, stalemate. If there is stalemate, then I think in the end the only way you can resolve this is not to rerun the last referendum but in a sense to go back to the British people and say, “do you want to go forward on this basis or would you want to stay?” Now I think one other element of that is that Europe itself is looking at reforms and changes that needs to make. Immigration was the big driver of this Brexit referendum in the U.K. I think that Europe itself knows it’s got to deal with its immigration issue. The Italian election tells you that, the recent elections in Austria, all over Europe, this is a big question. So I still think it’s possible and I think it’s more likely now than it was a few months ago that you will get a benign coming together of circumstance where there isn’t really a Brexit that works that works that is going to command a majority and Europe itself also recognizes that there are changes that it needs to make, which are changes very much in line with the sentiment that gave rise to Brexit.

EISEN: I am curious how you would characterize President Trump and Prime Minister May’s relationship. President Trump says it was “the highest level of special.” Do you see it that way? Was it as close as yours with President Bush?

BLAIR: You know, I mean I was prime minister for ten years and I had a close relationship with President Clinton and President Bush. I hope they get on really well. Because it is in the interest of the two countries that they do. And you know, it is not my job to criticize your president or indeed criticize her. I hope the relationship’s special because it should be because these are two countries – his and my country and your country — we’ve got a lot of in common.

EISEN: We have a special relationship.

FROST: The highest level.

BLAIR: I won’t go into that right now. But — i don’t know what that says about their relationship, either. But any way–

FROST: Talking friendships. Purely friendships.

BLAIR: Right. Okay – good.

FROST: Going back to the idea of a second referendum very quickly, Tony, so John Major just said on the march on Sunday that a second vote has democratic down sides but that it was morally justified. What would you say to the people who were told first of all it was a once in a lifetime vote that voted for Brexit, won the vote and still want Brexit? Would their democratic rights be bulldozed in the instance of a second referendum?

BLAIR: No. I don’t think you can say they’re going to be bulldozed. Because we are not suggesting anything different happens without their consent. But when you’ve large numbers of people who voted for Brexit saying that this deal that the prime minister is putting forward, which is kind of half in Europe, half out of Europe, when you get the people who supported Brexit saying that is not what we meant by Brexit, it is very hard to argue that there is a mandate for that. Because 48% of the country voted to stay. And of the 52% who voted to leave, it’s clear there was a deep division within that as to what it really means. And in the end – my view is that in the end it’s a very simple thing: if you are going to leave Europe, okay, leave but understand short and immediate term there is going to be significant economic pain. If you going to stay, then stay. I think — I think what the prime minister will find is the problem with the proposal is that it doesn’t satisfy the people that want to stay. It doesn’t really satisfy the people who want to leave.

FROST: And my final question, Mr. Blair, because we’re right up against the clock. But in the instance of a no deal, clean Brexit, does the U.K. still flourish long-term either way?

BLAIR: If we do a no deal sort of absolute rupture with Europe, yes we can flourish but we’re going to have to do a lot of economic and social restructuring. And my anxiety has always been that the people who want that vision for Britain will pull us out of Europe but they’ll never actually persuade the British people to then do that economic and social restructuring. So, if you want that new vision for Britain which is very different — implies a very different system in Britain I think that is another reason why it is voted for by the people to make sure that they are prepared to go for that type of future. Because I suspect a lot of people in the labor voting constituencies in the north of England, they might want Brexit but they certainly don’t want that type of deregulated light-tax low public spending future that some of the Brexiteers want.

FROST: Mr. Blair, we’ll have to leave it there. Thank you very much for joining us here on the “Closing Bell.”

BLAIR: Thanks very much.

FROST: The former British Prime Minister Tony Blair.

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