European Union

Brexit can be reversed if public opinion shifts, says Tony Blair

Heading for the exit? Tony Blair doesn't believe it's inevitable Image: REUTERS/Toby Melville

Ceri Parker
Previously Commissioning Editor, Agenda, World Economic Forum
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European Union

This article is part of: World Economic Forum Annual Meeting

Brexit can be reversed if that's what the public wants, says Tony Blair, Britain’s former Prime Minister.

In 2016, Britain narrowly voted to leave the EU in a divisive referendum. While Brexit negotiations are ongoing ahead of the UK’s departure next March, some leaders are arguing that the exit is not inevitable.

“Brexit can be reversed, but only if there’s a shift in British public opinion,” said Tony Blair, Britain’s former Prime Minister, in an interview at Davos. “The will of the people isn’t something fixed or unchangeable. If the circumstances change, the will can change, the view can change.”

Blair, who now leads the Tony Blair Institute for Global Change, a think tank, said that at the time of the 2016 referendum, the public didn’t know what an eventual Brexit deal would look like.

“People often forget with Brexit that at a certain point, the government has to come forward with a proposition that is in two parts: about the terms of the divorce from Europe, and what the new relationship will be.”

Britain’s parliament could block the Brexit proposition if it failed to offer better prospects for people than life inside the European Union, Blair said.

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The EU’s leaders have also recently signalled that the UK could backtrack if public opinion supported it. Jean-Claude Juncker, the president of the European commission, and Donald Tusk, the head of the European council, have said the door "remains open" to the UK.

However, speaking at Davos, Prime Minister Theresa laid out her view of a UK outside the EU, seeking fresh trade deals around the world.

“As we leave the European Union, the UK will continue to be a global advocate of free trade. Pushing for progress on WTO discussions; seeking to bring new partners to the table – and, of course, after we have left the EU, developing new bilateral deals with countries across the world,” she said.

The future and the failings of globalization have been a big theme at Davos this week. Blair said he saw the Brexit vote as part of a backlash against globalization, but argued that leaders needed to come up with better long-term policies to help those who had been left behind.

“Political leaders have got to respond to those anxieties and not end up in a situation where a kind of populism that rides the anger but doesn’t provide the answers takes control,” he said.

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