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LONDON, March 18 — Tony Blair came to power as leader of Britain’s Labour party in the years after it suffered a paralysing defeat to the Conservatives that few saw coming.

While praising current Labour chief Keir Starmer, Blair says that in the next general election, a shock win cannot be ruled out for Prime Minister Rishi Sunak’s Tories — even if the party currently trails badly in the polls.

But on one thing regarding UK politics, the 69-year-old elder statesman is sure: Britain will not rejoin the European Union in the coming years.

“Whether and how the UK rejoins the EU will be for a future generation. I think that’s the reality,” Blair said in an interview with AFP and fellow European news agencies ANSA, DPA and EFE.

The former prime minister vocally opposed Brexit in Britain’s 2016 referendum, even travelling to Northern Ireland with ex-Tory leader John Major to warn of its likely impact on the delicate peace there.

Following his surprise win over Labour in 1992, Major laid the foundations of peace talks with pro-Irish militants, which Blair went on to build into a landmark agreement in 1998.

Major’s election win accelerated Labour’s conversion from a flirtation with the far-left in the 1980s to electoral respectability, and Blair won a landslide five years later.

Then, the Conservatives were rebuilding after the political demise of Margaret Thatcher. Today, under Sunak, they are trying to rebuild after political and economic tumult under Boris Johnson and Liz Truss.

Starmer’s Labour has a commanding lead in opinion polls, averaging 20 points, ahead of the next election likely to take place in 2024.

But Sunak personally polls better than his rival, drawing media comparisons to the 1992 contest between Major and his Labour opponent, Neil Kinnock, who voters decided was not ready to be prime minister.

Britain’s Prime Minister Rishi Sunak (left) and Britain’s Health Secretary Steve Barclay (second left) talk with nurses and staff in a thoracic unit during a visit to St George’s hospital in London on March 16, 2023. — AFP pic

‘Very Sensible Guy’

Asked if Sunak could pull off a repeat upset, Blair said: “In politics, you should never talk of certainties, because there aren’t any.”

Sunak, whose presentational style has been compared to Blair, was “repairing the damage that has been done” to the Conservative brand by Johnson and Truss, he said.

But however much Sunak improves the party’s standing, voters will still be taxed higher and receiving less in public services come the next election.

“And I also think that Keir is a very sensible guy. He’s someone who looks like he can lead the country,” Blair added.

“In the immortal words of Sir Rod Stewart, it’s time to give the other lot a go, or whatever he said.”

The British rock crooner, a lifelong Conservative, said in January that “I’ve never seen it so bad… change the bloody government” and let Labour in.

While both Blair and Starmer campaigned to keep Britain in the EU, the current Labour leader has ruled out rejoining the bloc’s single market as a compromise step after Brexit.

“I think right now, the debate in the UK is the degree to which we want to re-establish a strong relationship with Europe, which I think we should and which I believe Labour will also do,” Blair said.

Britain and the EU had much to talk about in energy and climate, science and research, and defence and security after Russia’s invasion of Ukraine, he said.

“I think there’s a strong case for trying to cooperate on technology,” Blair added.

“Because otherwise, Europe, including the UK, is going to be pinned between two technology giants in the US and China, and possibly a third in India.

“And so I think there’s a massive amount we can do together.” — AFP