November 25, 2019 / 9:50 AM / 7 months ago

Highlights: Former UK PM Blair says Britain is a mess

LONDON (Reuters) - Former British Prime Minister Tony Blair said on Monday that Britain was in a mess, warning that neither his own Labour Party nor Prime Minister Boris Johnson’s Conservatives deserved to win a Dec. 12 election.

Former British Prime Minister Tony Blair speaks during an interview with Axel Threlfall at a Reuters Newsmaker event on "The challenging state of British politics" in London, Britain, November 25, 2019. REUTERS/Toby Melville

Below are excerpts from his speech at the Reuters Newsmaker event:

“Britain is home to a unique political experiment. We are testing – hopefully not to destruction – whether it is possible for a major developed nation to turn its politics into chaos and survive without serious economic and social damage to its essential fabric.

“Populism of all sorts is rampant world-wide. My Institute has outlined the causes elsewhere. But in most cases the populism is focused on a Leader. Leaders are transient. In Britain our populism focused on a policy – Brexit – which may be permanent.

“In June 2016, we were a reasonably successful and influential power, our economy the fastest growing in the G7, London possibly the premier financial centre of the globe, our technology sector the strongest in Europe, our society riven with inequalities and unacceptable levels of poverty due to austerity post the financial crisis; but nonetheless a country able to ease itself out of austerity and repair its social cohesion should it choose to.

“Fast forward to today and we’re a mess. The buoyancy of the world economy has kept us going up to now, but should that falter, we will be in deep trouble.

“Our politics is utterly dysfunctional... If Brexit is blocked in Parliament, the way to unblock it is to go back to the people who originally mandated it. It is a specific issue and should be decided specifically.

“The truth is: the public aren’t convinced either main party deserve to win this election outright.

“They’re peddling two sets of fantasies; and both, as majority governments, pose a risk it would be unwise for the country to take.

“I have spoken to many people in Europe over the past few weeks. Not a single person believes that there is any prospect of Britain reaching agreement with Europe on this (Conservative Party) timeline, if its position is divergence on rule making.

“On the contrary, they assert that Europe would be vigilant to ensure there was no ‘unfair competition’, particularly around tax and regulation.

“No Deal Brexit is not off the table. It is slap bang in the middle of it and if they mean their manifesto commitment to no extension past 2020, it is the probable outcome.

“The Labour Party manifesto is heralded by its leadership as the most radical ever. This is true. It promises a revolution; and if implemented it would indeed amount to one... The problem with revolutions is never how they begin but how they end.

“The new Parliament will be obliged to let the country decide Brexit on its merits, in a referendum, whether in the light of what we now know, we want to proceed with exit from Europe and if so, on what basis.

“And then we will have a fresh election to decide who governs.

“This election is the weirdest of my life time. But once you realise it is not conventional, you are liberated to think unconventionally.

“At some later point, and not too later, we must set about the urgent task of reconstructing the sensible mainstream of British politics. Otherwise, this laboratory experiment in populism running riot, will end very badly for our nation.”

Reporting by Kate Holton, Guy Faulconbridge and William James

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