Tony Blair has announced the creation of a new policy unit dedicated to developing a “new policy agenda for the centre ground” and debating Europe, in the wake of the “political earthquakes” of the Brexit vote and American elections.
The former Prime Minister’s controversial return, following much speculation, comes the day after the Scottish National Party (SNP) forced a debate in the Commons calling for Mr Blair to be held account for allegedly misleading Parliament over the Iraq invasion in 2003.
In a statement the Labour Prime Minister between 1997 and 2007 said: “This is not about my returning to the front line of politics. I have made it abundantly clear that this is not possible.
“However, I care about my country and the world my children and grandchildren will grow up in; and want to play at least a small part in contributing to the debate about the future of both.”
On his website the former Prime Minister emphasises his new project will not be a think tank – “there are enough of those,” he said – but rather a platform designed to build a new policy agenda for the centre ground. It will be based on evidence-based discussions and “avoid the plague of social media-led exchanges of abuse”.
The statement adds: “Part of its focus will plainly be around the European debate; but this will not be its exclusive domain. It has to go far wider than that since in many ways the Europe debate is a lightning rod for the whole of politics. We’re now planning to bring all of these four parts together in one new Not For Profit Institute.
“The business side has been shut down and the assets, running into many millions of pounds, gifted to the Institute. In the New Year, we plan to merge the activities of the different organisations into the Institute, with any charitable funds used exclusively for the purposes for which they were originally given.
“This will allow us to work more coherently across the board; use the obvious synergies between the different elements of the work; and to be far stronger on the global policy side than we have been up to now. The focus previously was mainly on programmes. These will remain but the organisation will also be far more about thought leadership.”
He continues: “We are now at the stage and have built the financial infrastructure where it is time to enter a new phase. First we can take the work we have done in Africa, in governance, on extremism and in the Middle East to a new and more effective level; and secondly, in the past six months we have seen political earthquakes in the UK with Brexit and in the American election, as well as an explosion in populist movements all over the European continent. This impacts profoundly all the work we do and the future of globalisation.”
It was also revealed on Thursday that Tim Farron, the Liberal Democrat leader, had met with the former Prime Minister at his office in central London to discuss the EU referendum result and the opportunities to recapture the centre ground.
But the meeting is unlikely to be the start of a blossoming political friendship. While the Lib Dem leader has previously said he admires the former premier for his work on tax credits and introducing the minimum wage, he has described Mr Blair’s actions in Iraq as “unspeakable”, costing the lives of thousands of innocent people and diminishing Britain’s standing in the world.
A source close to the Lib Dem leader added: “He is not about to rehabilitate Tony Blair. He is still responsible for the biggest foreign policy disaster since the Suez but he is right to note the space for the centre ground”.
Earlier this week senior cross-party politicians and Remain campaigners said Mr Blair must be allowed a voice in the Brexit debate and revealed they were willing to work alongside him to rally against a so-called hard Brexit.
Speaking at the Open Britain event Nick Clegg, the predecessor of Tim Farron, said he had also met with the former Prime Minister since the referendum on Britain’s membership of the EU in June.
Mr Clegg added: “Though I disagreed passionately with what Blair did on Iraq, the guy is a formidable politician who has a huge amount of insight on what’s going on around the world. I’ve talked to him and many other people across parties about the choices we face as a country. I think the more we can make those connections without losing our identities or our respective opinions about each other over what happened in the past the better.”
“We’ve got to release ourselves from the prejudices and blinkers of the past if we’re going to try and get the best deal for our country in the future.”
Also at the event Anna Soubry, the former Conservative business minister, said she would “work with anyone” – including those who had supported Remain during the referendum campaign. “That’s what we’re really saying today – it’s time for everyone to come together”.