Tony Blair will enter the election campaign fray on Tuesday with the warning that Britain faces a period of instability not seen since the second world war if a Conservative victory results in a referendum on Europe.
Blair, who led Labour to three election victories, will praise Ed Miliband’s “real leadership on the EU”, saying he admires the way he had shown “he is own man with his own convictions and determined to follow them, even when they go against the tide”.
Blair will make his call for a Labour vote under Miliband’s leadership in a speech delivered alongside his wife Cherie in his old constituency in County Durham.
The former prime inister will turn on its head David Cameron’s repeated warning of the chaos of a Labour victory, saying: “Think of the chaos produced by the possibility, never mind the reality, of Britain quitting Europe. Jobs that are secure suddenly insecure; investment decisions postponed or cancelled; a pall of unpredictability hanging over the British economy.”
Although Blair has advised a traditional leftwing campaign could end up with a traditional Labour defeat, his speech on Tuesday will focus on the threat to the UK of an EU referendum – a point of genuine convergence between Miliband and Blair, who are not naturally ideological bedfellows.
In a campaign that has been bogged down in claim and counter claim about living standards and secret tax plans, Blair will try elevate the level of the argument to a discussion about Britain’s place in the world, warning that departure from the EU would say something new and disturbing about the British character.
He will say: “A decision to exit Europe would say a lot about us, and none of it good: that an adventurous country has become a timid one; that one with global ambitions has opted to be a parochial bystander; that a country known for its openness to the world shuts the open door nearest to it; that a nation which has built its history on confidence towards others defines itself by resentment to others; that, with all the challenges of the world crowding in upon us, demanding strong and clear leadership, instead of saying ‘here’s where the world should go’, we say ‘count us out’.”
Blair has already given £1,000 to the Labour candidates in 106 Labour target seats – although in three cases, the candidates have rejected the money due to his role in the invasion of Iraq in 2003.
Blair gave his support to his fierce rival and friend Gordon Brown in the 2010 election and, despite his doubts about much of Miliband’s politics, was determined to praise him over Europe and condemn David Cameron for succumbing to a rampant anti-European media. His influence over a modern electorate, though, is a matter of dispute given the Iraq war and the way his sometimes secretive business career intertwines with his role as a Middle East diplomat.
Blair will say “it is greatly to Ed Miliband’s credit” that he “faced down calls from the media and many inside our party to follow the Tory concession. In doing so, he showed real leadership. He showed that he would put the interests of the country first. He showed that on this, as on other issues, he is his own man”.
He also says: “There is, in my view, a complete under-estimation of the short-term pain of negotiating exit. There would be a raft of different treaties, association agreements and partnerships to be dis-entangled and re-negotiated. There would be significant business uncertainty in the run-up to a vote but, should the vote go the way of exit, then there would be the most intense period of business anxiety, reconsideration of options and instability since the war”.
Drawing on his own knowledge of Europe, he also challenges claims that the rest of Europe will readily grant the concessions Cameron is likely to seek before staging a referendum in 2017.
He warns: “The rest of Europe will be vigorous in ensuring Britain gets no special treatment. This will be a horrible process. Don’t be in any doubt about that … If I was leading a business dependent on access to the single market or, more important, employed in such a business, then the issue of Europe and the risks of this would be a big decider in my vote.”
Blair claims Cameron does not genuinely want to leave Europe as it stands. The offer of a referendum “was a concession to party, a manoeuvre to access some of the Ukip vote, a sop to the rampant anti-Europe feeling of parts of the media. This issue, touching as it does the country’s future, is too important to be traded like this”.
Those who want to leave Europe are not part of a new open-minded, culturally tolerant Britain, he will claim, but derive their instincts from near pre-historic politics, the desire to blame others.
He urges voters to raise their sights and look at the risks in the world and global security, in an era defined by the rise of China and India, as well as terrorism and resurgent Russian nationalism.
He will ask: “Do we really think this is the time in which to put into play our very membership of the European Union, the largest commercial market and most developed political union in the world? And the one on our doorstep? So that, instead of playing a leading role in resolving these common challenges, we would decide to engage in the juddering impact of a negotiation which would weaken all these alliances and put us out of the leadership game?”
Blair’s intervention comes as Labour claims, on the basis of parliamentary written answers, there are now 600 fewer GP surgeries across England open at the weekend or in the evening compared with the time of the last election. In addition, the government’s own survey completed late last year shows 2m more patients unhappy with GP opening hours compared with three years ago. Andy Burnham, the shadow health secretary, blamed relaxation of the GP contract and the removal of financial incentives to stay open.
Cameron promised to extend opening hours in the 2010 Tory manifesto. The health secretary, Jeremy Hunt, said Labour’s figures were out of date, and do not include the Prime Minister’s Challenge Fund, introduced in 2014, and covering more than 1,100 practices. Labour said the patient satisfaction survey was conducted after the Challenge Fund started.
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