People of Manchester should “speak up now before it is too late” at the ‘Stop Brexit’ march, former Prime Minister Tony Blair tells The Mancunion
“Brexit is the defining issue for the future of our country,” Mr Blair tells The Mancunion, ahead of the upcoming ‘Stop Brexit’ march in Manchester.
Part of a planned ‘Autumn of Discontent’ by pro-EU campaigners, the ‘Stop Brexit’ march will take place on the 1st of October, beginning at All Saint’s Park and marching along Oxford Road to the Convention Centre, where the Conservative Party Conference will be in full session.
The march is an opportunity for Brexit sceptics to “speak up now before it is too late”, Mr Blair said.
The former Prime Minister recently made headlines after arguing that Britain doesn’t have to leave the European Union to control immigration, both in an article and a podcast based on his Institute’s recently published policy paper.
Directly appealing to young people and students, Mr Blair told The Mancunion: “For young people, this decision is particularly acute; there are genuine concerns about this generation’s prospects being worse than those of generations before them.
“Students in Manchester and elsewhere are no longer sure that academic success will lead to professional success. Brexit will exacerbate not solve this problem.”
Tony Blair strongly encouraged students in Manchester, and the people of Greater Manchester more broadly, to attend the march.
Speaking to The Mancunion, he said: “Manchester is a remain city. A warm and welcoming city, with a spirit like no other. Those who feel passionately that their future is in the hands of others who do not have their best interests at heart, who feel this decision will harm our country for generations to come should take this opportunity to demonstrate their strength of feeling against this Hard Brexit.”
Blair was particularly concerned about the impact a ‘Hard Brexit’ would have on British universities, echoing Angela Rayner’s recent comments to The Mancunion that “universities and students cannot be sacrificed to a disastrous Brexit designed to appease hard-line Tory backbenchers.”
Mr Blair said: “The damage to higher education will be significant if we continue down this path. Our universities are world leaders. If they can’t attract the best and brightest from around the globe, then if we carry on with Brexit, like Britain, their standing in the world will diminish.”
However, the former Labour leader accepted that Brexit may go ahead, stating that “if the will of the British people remains as it was last June, then Brexit will happen.”
But, significantly, Tony Blair added: “if the will of the people changes, then we must change course with it.”
Using a Manchester-specific football analogy to explain his position, Mr Blair said: “If we go ahead with this, we will have taken the unprecedented decision for a major country to relegate ourselves, like United or City deciding to play in the Championship. This is madness.”
Mr Blair’s comments come after his former colleague, Alastair Campbell, put out a similar call to action for the ‘Stop Brexit’ march in The Mancunion: “I hope Manchester students, and the people of Manchester more generally, turn out in force to make sure the government understands the depth of concern and anger about Brexit, both the false prospectus sold, and the mind-numbing incompetence of the ministers in charge of the Brexit process.”
Nonetheless, Mr Blair was clear that “we won’t be able to stop [Brexit] until there is a groundswell for change.”
Explaining his position and Institute’s research in more detail, Mr Blair said: “Post-financial crisis we haven’t regained our footing. Austerity is biting, the poorest are suffering, middle incomes are stagnating, and our country is deeply divided.
“We need to deal with the anxieties behind Brexit; finding the solutions that won’t cause the tremendous damage that a Hard Brexit will. And to bridge the divide we must persuade enough people to change their minds.
“That’s why my Institute has come up with ideas to reform freedom of movement, controlling EU immigration in a way that meets the anxiety behind the Brexit vote, without casting aside our values or causing economic self-harm.”
Mr Blair added: “there is a real anxiety that our country is becoming a more closed society. We can’t set aside the discussion of EU immigration from Brexit, but the reality is: we need people to continue coming to work and study here, otherwise our country is going to suffer a serious economic hit.
“By putting in place sensible policies which answer the concerns that people have around pressures on local public services or rapid cultural change we don’t pander to populist sentiments. We need to provide answers, not ride the anger.
“This decision is the biggest decision our country will take since the Second World War. It will define not only this generation, but many generations to come.”
Mr Blair called for sceptics to “deal with the underlying causes which led to the Brexit vote, whilst continuing to make our voices heard in opposition to it.”