Shortly after the results of Britain’s Brexit referendum were announced, CNN interviewed a visibly shaken Tony Blair, who did his best to explain why a narrow majority of British voters had decided to leave the European Union. There was something poignant about Blair’s reaction, which managed to be calm, measured, and anguished all at the same time. One gets the sense Blair understands, on a gut level, that Britain’s rejection of the EU is a rejection of his worldview. Perhaps he can take some solace in the fact that he is not alone.
Like most leading figures in the worlds of politics and business, Blair favored remaining in the European Union. As prime minister during the 1990s, he often made the case for deeper European integration. More broadly, Blair proved himself to be among the most emphatically cosmopolitan world leaders in recent history. Within the Labour Party, Blair has since been repudiated by a base that fiercely rejects his brand of economic liberalism and will never forgive him for his decision to back the war in Iraq. Both commitments were, in very different ways, a reflection of Blair’s belief in a more internationalist Britain, one that would shed its imperial past and embrace a new one as a multicultural society at home in the world.
To that end, Blair also presided over the opening of Britain’s borders to immigrants. Since 1997, when the Labour Party, under his leadership, swept into office in a landslide, British society has been transformed by a wave of immigration unprecedented in its history.