Tony Blair has called for more “muscularity” from the political centre ground in making the case for Britain’s membership of the EU, but admitted he was too divisive a figure to help the in campaign.
In an interview with BBC Radio 4’s Today programme, the former prime minister said: “I would like to see the pro-European side to get out there with a bit of passion and vigour and determination, and stand up for what we believe … not just as a matter of economic realism but as a matter of political idealism.”
But he said he would not be leading the fight: “I don’t know if it’s the right time for me on the campaign trail, since that carries negatives as well as positives, but it’s certainly time to argue this case for Europe with some passion.”
Blair challenged the idea that backing Britain’s membership of the EU was the choice of the political elite. He said: “At some point the political class as whole has got to get up and stand up for itself, and the centre ground in particular has got to get some more muscularity in its position.
“There are plenty of elites on the anti-European side. The powerful people in the newspapers and major politicians who are fighting this are no less elitist than the politicians on the other side.
“Framing this argument in the way these guys do as ‘the elites are all for Europe and the people are all against it’? Come on. You guys are just as elitist as anyone else.”
He added: “The question is: what’s right for the people? And the point is, Britain has gained from Europe in these last decades.”
Blair predicted the in campaign would win the vote, but added: “You can’t have a referendum like this, especially with the fervour on the anti side, and not be concerned.”
Blair, who mounted an unsuccessful campaign to be chosen as president of the European council in 2009, said Britain should be a leading country in Europe rather than a peripheral one.
He said: “What frustrates me is that Britain has got a great opportunity to lead in Europe … person for person it is in the Premier League of systems. Our destiny as a country is to lead in Europe and we can and we should. And once this is out of the way, with some strong leadership in our own country we will.”
Blair suggested the in campaign was based too much on fear, but he also warned of “massive instability” if Britain voted to leave. “As you can see from the gyrations on the currency markets … if you vote to go there are going to be several years of uncertainty,” he said.
“It is not to satisfy some elite that we should be part of the biggest political union and commercial market in the world, it is precisely to satisfy the interests of the people. Those interests that will be damaged fundamentally with the instability and the economic difficult that’s going to be consequent on the decision to withdraw.”
This article was written by Matthew Weaver, for theguardian.com on Friday 11th March 2016 09.12 Europe/Londonguardian.co.uk © Guardian News and Media Limited 2010