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Has Tony Blair’s speech on referendum been dismissed due to his broken promise on UK rebate?

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Blair stood down as prime minister in 2007 and has largely stayed out of British politics since then. However, BBC deputy editor James Landale claimed Labour hoped he still had “enough lingering stardust to appeal to some voters”.

He made his view on the re-negotiation clear, warning that departure from the EU would say something disturbing about Britain’s character: “Think of the chaos produced by the possibility, never mind the reality, of Britain quitting Europe,” Blair said. “A decision to exit Europe would say a lot about us, and none of it good: that an adventurous country has become a timid one; that one with global ambitions has opted to be a parochial bystander; that a country known for its openness to the world shuts the open door nearest to it; that a nation which has built its history on confidence towards others defines itself by resentment to others.”

His speech comes after Cameron promised to renegotiate Britain’s ties with Brussels, something Blair argued was only done to win back voters who defected to UKIP. He also stands steadfast that Cameron “doesn’t really believe” we should leave Europe. 

Blair suggested the rest of Europe would “grant the concessions Cameron is likely to seek” before staging a referendum in 2017. And if push comes to shove, he’s convinced Europe will be vigorous in “ensuring Britain gets no special treatment”. 

But his previous claims and promises regarding the EU seem not to have been forgotten, or even forgiven.

Read more about the UK’s relationship with the EU:

According to former home secretary David Blunkett, people “hate” Blair over the 2003 invasion of Iraq and were not prepared to accept the government had simply made mistakes.

He also gave away Britain’s rebate.

Next month marks the 13th anniversary of Margaret Thatcher securing a rebate on Britain’s contribution to the EU’s budget. For many years the UK’s rebate was a “symbolic feature” of Britain’s relationship with the EU. Between 1985 and 2009 it returned £63.9bn to the UK. But thanks to a decision in 2005 by Blair, the value of the rebate fell by 40 per cent since 2010.

Responding to the comments by Blair about the dangers of an EU referendum, Matthew Elliott, CEO of Business for Britain, said: “Tony Blair was consistently out of touch with the public about Britain’s relationship with the EU when he was PM, and little appears to have changed. The vast majority of UK business leaders back a referendum, the public support a referendum and Labour voters want a referendum, so the real potential for uncertainty lies in avoiding giving people a say.

“Blair’s record on the EU was a disaster – he broke his referendum promise on the EU constitution, he surrendered important British vetos, threw away billions in our rebate and was desperate to take Britain into the Euro. He was wrong then and he is wrong now.”

Any future renegotiation of Britain’s EU membership will have to look at the way the rebate works. There is still anger that Blair agreed to surrender a large portion of the British rebate in return for a promise of Common Agriculture Policy (CAP) reform.

Cameron recently announced: “It is absolutely extraordinary that the last government gave away almost half of [our] rebate.” 

From new Freedom of Information (FOI) requests, it is now possible to see how much the rebate was actually reduced by in each year. Business for Britain acquired government data, highlighting how “the UK has already lost more than £10bn and is set to loose even more.”

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