There is a good argument to be made that Tony Blair did more than any other British politician to bring about our exit from the European Union, and also to alienate the electorate from political leaders.
His vital act was to open Britain’s borders to eastern European workers in 2004, even as other states were retaining entry restrictions. That act, taken in flagrant disregard for the wishes of the electorate, transformed many British communities, changed the labour market and broke any bond of trust voters had with their leaders. Whatever economic benefits it brought, Mr Blair’s act lacked political legitimacy because he ignored the people; it was only in last year’s EU referendum that many of those people felt they were able to express their view of these matters.
Mr Blair’s admission that he did not know the consequences of his actions will dismay, but not surprise, many voters, who had long since concluded that he was utterly reckless in his zeal to tie Britain into the doomed European project. This is, after all, the man who wanted Britain to join the single European currency, a catastrophic misjudgment. But what is remarkable is Mr Blair’s lack of repentance. In essence, he maintains that opening Britain’s borders was a good thing, that Britain was wrong to vote to leave the EU and its “free movement” rules, and that we could even be persuaded not to leave.
This is impressive effrontery, even by Mr Blair’s standards. Having made that historic mistake, he would be wiser to stay silent on European questions forever more. But since he refuses to do so, voters should bear that mistake in mind whenever they listen to his arguments, and dismiss his points with the contempt they deserve.