Brexit: Tony Blair attacks right-wing press ‘cartel’ over EU coverage

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Tony Blair has criticised a eurosceptic “cartel” in the British press for creating the “toxic atmosphere” around the European Union that set the stage for the Brexit vote.

Speaking in Brussels on Thursday the former Prime Minister said the right-wing media was a “major factor” in Brexit and that it continued to misrepresent the way Brexit negotiations were progressing.

In a wide-ranging speech on Brexit in the de facto EU capital Mr Blair also said Brexit was driven by people who wanted to complete a “Thatcherite revolution”, and that he did not believe staying in the single market but outside the EU its would be sustainable for the UK.  

“I have made it very clear recently, in what I agree was a departure from where I was at the beginning of my time as prime minister, about what I call the media cartel on the right of the British media,” he told an audience at the European Policy Centre.

“This has been a major factor in creating this toxic atmosphere around Europe, of sustaining the Brexit campaign, and now by the way, if you were reading these newspapers in Britain you’d think the whole thing is going very well. You’d think the Europeans were being very unreasonable, but apart from that it’s going very well!”

But he added that last year’s general election – in which Labour faced down a hostile press to achieve a better-than-expected result – showed the limits of their power.

“My differences with Jeremy Corbyn are well know but the one thing I do think about the last election is that it also showed the limits of their ability to swing opinion,” he said.

Mr Blair said he believed public opinion could be turned in the UK towards staying in the bloc and that “that there is not a majority in parliament to do damage to our country”.

“I know people say to me this is a Don Quixote exercise, and it’s just not possible to change this. But I think the debate in Britain is opening up now,” he said.

But he was sceptical of the UK staying “half-in, half-out” of the bloc and remaining in the single market without any ability to shape its rules.

“The one thing I’m absolutely certain of political, I’m certain of this, is any compromise that involves us abiding by European rules outside of Europe is never going to attract the British people,” he said.

“If it happens you will find a large number of British people divide into two camps: those that say that’s not good enough, we want a clean break. Yeah, it’s going to cause us damage, we’ll take the damage. And there’s another group of people who’ll say we might as well stay.

“I think a reform that ends up with Britain half in and half out, I just don’t think that’s ever going to work.”

The former PM said he believed Britain would “inevitably” have to turn towards a deregulated, tax-haven style model after Brexit to survive, despite claims by the Government that this was not on the agenda.

He added: “But the people really behind Brexit, that’s what they really want. What they don’t like about Europe is the political culture of Europe.

“What they think is that the Thatcherite revolution in Britain was never fully completed, and this is their chance to complete it.”

Mr Blair was speaking just a day after another former prime minister John Major criticised the “grand folly” of Brexit and called for it to be given the chance to be reversed.