Tony Blair’s speech on Europe seemed to me to confuse two quite separate issues. The first issue, on which he is absolutely right, is that “the people voted without knowledge of the terms of Brexit”, and that “The road we’re going down is not simply Hard Brexit. It is Brexit At Any Cost.” Accepting the (questionable) legitimacy of the Brexit vote is not equivalent to accepting the Government’s recipe for implementation. The second issue, on which he is not right, is to assume that the alternative is to vote again and this time to vote the other way. The main alternative is surely to address the terms of exit differently, including the extension of rights to EU nationals in Britain, membership of the EEA, and – probably most important – democratic deliberation at every stage of the process. As Blair himself says,
it isn’t a question of just ‘getting on with it’. This is not a decision that once made is then a mere matter of mechanics to implement. It is a decision which then begets many other decisions. Every part of this negotiation from money to access to post Brexit arrangements is itself an immense decision with consequence.
There are however points on which I would part company from Blair altogether. One is his acceptance of the view that “Immigration is the issue. ” It is for Theresa May, but this wasn’t a vote on immigration – it was only a vote where that played a part. The other is his dismissal of the relevance of the ECJ, where he says: “I would defy anyone to be able to recall any decisions which they might have heard of. ” Try Rüffert v Niedersachsen, 2008 C‑346/06, where the ECJ judged that national governments could not use contracts to enforce collective wage agreements; or Bundesdruckerei v Stadt Dortmund 2014 C549/13, which stopped German authorities from insisting that the minimum wage should be paid. These decisions were appalling – quite as bad as the Lochner v New York in the USA, where dissenting judge Justice Holmes was moved to comment that the Constitution of the United States “does not enact Mr. Herbert Spencer’s Social Statics.” I wouldn’t expect most critics of the EU to be able to cite the specifics either, but they understand the general tenor. The ECJ has been part of the neo-liberal domination of the EU, that has done so much to undermine the European ideal.