Tony Blair Pleads With Trump Over Brexit

Tony Blair urged President Donald Trump to let Europe know that the Transatlantic Alliance still matters to America, and cautioned him against supporting Brexit, warning that the fracturing of the European Union is not in his country's interest.

Britain voted in a referendum to leave the EU. The deadline for Brexit is set in March 2019 though no deal is currently in place on the future relationship with Brussels, and there are concerns Britain will crash out messily. Trump has expressed support for Brexit, and the first Briton to meet him after his election as president was Nigel Farage, a figurehead of the Brexit movement.

Blair, a former British prime minister who had a close relationship with U.S. presidents Bill Clinton and George W. Bush, issued a warning to Trump over Brexit during a speech at Chatham House, a foreign affairs think tank in London.

"The debate on Brexit has naturally focused on the economic fallout. But the political effect of Britain leaving the European Union may be worse," Blair said. "At a stroke, Britain loses its position in the world's largest commercial market and biggest political union. America loses its foremost ally which has often been a bridge between the two sides of the alliance."

Tony Blair
Former Prime Minister of the United Kingdom Tony Blair attends the Copenhagen Democracy Summit in the Royal Theater House, Skuespilhuset, in Copenhagen, Denmark, on June 22. KELD NAVNTOFT/AFP/Getty Images

Blair said that "the reason why any American president should be strongly supporting the EU is absolutely topical, the here and now, not old fashioned sentiment.

"In a world where population and GDP and therefore global power become realigned, where by the middle of the 21st Century, India's economy, nevermind China's, will be several times the size of Germany's, America needs Europe united and standing with it, not isolated as individual nations, able to be picked off one by one by the emergent new powers."

Blair said: "The only people who gain from a fracturing of the Transatlantic Alliance are America's rivals or adversaries. I do not believe this is the desire of the present administration but too many Europeans do. This feeling needs to be countered with vigor and urgency."

The former Labour leader said "some in America think Brexit will boost the American alliance," but warned of the "contradiction" that divides Brexit supporters in the U.K.

Blair wants a second referendum on Brexit so voters can reject it in favor of remaining if they do not like the eventual deal agreed between Westminster and Brussels.

Some of those who voted for Brexit did so to free Britain from the EU's regulations. They want to liberalize further the country's economy and a free trade deal with America is at the heart of their ambitions.

"Geopolitically, they want an even tighter alliance with the USA," Blair said. "However, the foot-soldiers of the Brexit campaign, those in Labour areas in the North of England critical to the Brexit vote, do not share the liberal part of this vision; on the contrary they were persuaded by promises of a crackdown on immigration and more money for the NHS.

"Neither are they big supporters of even closer ties to America. The official opposition [the Labour Party] is opposed even to the American president visiting Britain."

Trump is set to visit the U.K. in July but many parliamentarians want the government to rescind its invitation over the president's many controversies. Anti-Trump protesters are preparing a mass demonstration for when he arrives.

Blair appeared to criticize Trump's aggressive trade policy. The president introduced tariffs on European steel and aluminum imports. He is using tariffs as leverage to secure a new trade relationship with the EU, demanding greater access to its market for American companies. The EU responded with its own tariffs.

The Trump administration is also at odds with the EU over issues such as the Iran nuclear deal, the Paris Climate Agreement, and NATO, among others. But Blair said the preservation of the Transatlantic Alliance is "vital" and pressed Trump to make clear his administration's commitment to it.

"The Transatlantic Alliance is the bedrock of our values system and way of life. Yet the right-wing relegation of it as secondary to national interest rather than part of it and the kneejerk left-wing reaction against anything American led, is leaving this alliance in danger of fracture," Blair said.

"This will damage both of us. Of course, there can be disputes, whether over trade, commitment to NATO spending, how to tackle the Middle East or climate change. Friends can disagree.

"But we need to know from the current American administration and its president that our alliance matters, that it is regarded, historically and contemporaneously, as a vital American strategic interest; and the leading European governments, given that visible and clear reassurance, need to respond in kind.

"We need leaders both sides of the water explaining its importance and seeking ways of strengthening it."

Concluding, Blair said: "A weaker Britain means a weaker Europe which means a weaker alliance with America and therefore a world in which the cause of Western democracy is itself weakened."

Tony Blair Pleads With Trump Over Brexit | World