Dearly beloved, let us begin with a reading from the Word of God: the Gospel of St Luke, chapter 15, reading from verse seven: “There is more joy in heaven over one lost sinner who repents than over ninety-nine others who are righteous and do not need to repent”.
Talking of Tony Blair, what has the former Labour prime minister been up to recently?
It is revealed today that his considerable diplomatic talents have been employed once more in the service of his government and his country. This can be no bad thing, but we should expect an avalanche of vitriol and outrage from certain quarters that those skills are being deployed in the service of Liz Truss’s government. Worse, in the eyes of the beleaguered, defeated but defiant hordes of Remainers and Rejoiners in whose company Sir Tony may never again feel comfortable, he is working to persuade both the EU and the US that maybe the British government has a point about its objection to the Northern Ireland Protocol as it stands.
There is treachery and there is treachery, and as far as the pro-EU crowd is concerned, this behaviour falls firmly into the latter category. Although Blair was never as prominent in the Remain campaign as some would have liked him to be – perhaps because of the imminent (at the time) publication of the Chilcot Inquiry’s final report of the circumstances surrounding the Iraq war – he made his views on Britain’s membership of the EU clear before and after the 2016 referendum. We know where he stands and it is not next to Dan Hannan and Nigel Farage.
Which makes this latest revelation all the more disturbing or delicious, depending on your own view of Brexit. There can hardly be any doubting the wisdom of recruiting Blair to make the government’s case to people who might have a well-grounded suspicion of the motives of Conservative ministers. Blair is far enough removed from office to be considered an honest broker; in fact, his well-known support for the EU and for Britain’s membership of it makes his advocacy for changes to the Protocol all the more effective.
This is the man, after all, who led the successful negotiations on the Good Friday Agreement in 1998, and it’s easy, nearly a quarter of a century later, to forget that at the time, few observers thought there was a cat in hell’s chance of any agreement being reached between various camps with such dramatically diverging political aims. But one shoulder-adjacent hand of history later, the job was done, or at least, the long road to peace had been successfully begun.
Of course Blair is no convert to the case for Brexit, sadly. But he doesn’t need to be in order to do this job. What is required is not an ideological commitment to either the EU or to Brexit but an ability to understand where each side is coming from. If anyone can achieve that one task, it is Tony Blair, the master strategist who succeeded as Labour leader and prime minister because he dared to put himself in the shoes of ordinary working class people, and in doing so, could deliver what they wanted for themselves and their families.
And whatever criticism he receives from those who will claim that he has committed apostasy against the One True Faith of European Integration, he will content himself with the knowledge that he owes his loyalty and his duty to the British people, represented in parliament by His Majesty’s Government. He will have little time for those who believe that loyalty must be owed exclusively to one political party, especially when that party is not in government and is therefore unable to lift a finger to affect change.
What will infuriate the Remainers and Rejoiners the most is that they consider Northern Ireland to be their trump card, proof not only of the futility and recklessness of Brexit but of the duplicity of those who negotiated the Protocol in the first place as part of the EU withdrawal agreement. They must surely be left to stew in their own juice. And if the situation is unresolved by the time of the next general election, if even a degree of civil unrest has developed as a result of the unhappiness caused by it, that can only be to Labour’s benefit.
Naturally, Blair – a British patriot and committed Unionist, whatever his foam-mouthed detractors may say – will have no truck with exploiting such a delicate situation for party advantage. Undoubtedly he values his legacy in the form of the Good Friday Agreement and wants it strengthened and preserved. The current controversy does nothing to enable that outcome and so any minor personal concession he might have to make to help out an old foe will be of little consequence, either to him or to any sane adult.
The fight to change the Northern Ireland Protocol into something more acceptable to the Unionist community and to the UK government can only be achieved if both the EU and the US can have faith in the motives of those arguing for such a change. Who better to persuade them than the man credited with bringing peace to the province, a man who, while in office, was the world’s greatest ally to America and the EU’s firmest advocate?
The government has played a blinder in hiring Tony. This is not the time for soundbites, but we may be about to witness the turning of a new page in the history of our islands, a renewed relationship – nay, friendship – between and within these continents.
Or we might just improve things a bit.