Former British Prime Minister Tony Blair said the UK will only realise the full consequences of Brexit once it leaves the single market at the end of the year.
“That is when the full consequences will come,” he said.
Mr Blair reflected on the “profound mistake” the UK had made by withdrawing from the European Union, and that it now needs to reposition itself on the global stage.
Speaking exclusively to The National for the 'My 2020' podcast series launched on Monday, Mr Blair said that Brexit had "divided Britain" but that the political parties had to find a way forward.
“I fought very hard against Brexit. I think it's a profound mistake for Britain, but it’s happened and we're gonna have to make the best of it”, he said.
“My anxiety now is that I think both main political parties in a way want to say, 'well look, that Brexit argument is over, let's all move on'. The trouble is, because we're only going in 2021 to have the practical effect of Brexit clear ... we've then got to debate, ‘well, how do we make the best of the new world we find ourselves in?’"
Mr Blair said now that Brexit will come into full effect, “you've got to reconstruct your place in the world, economically and politically”.
That place in the world will be affected in part by the UK government decision to cut foreign aid, as it deals with the economic fallout from Covid-19. He lamented that decision, calling it "a big strategic mistake for Britain ... our commitment to aid gave us a very, very strong voice in the world ... I regret it deeply".
He did, however, concede that in “public opinion in the UK, it is probably a popular decision ... so I understand the political reasons why this is being taken”.
Mr Blair said he worried about the future of the union of the United Kingdom, saying it will be “under a lot of strain” after Brexit.
“I think Brexit has revived Scottish nationalism. Now, personally, I'm wholly opposed to the separatism in Scotland, or indeed, for the rest of the UK. I want the UK to stick together, we're more powerful together than we are apart."
He also spoke about Northern Ireland, and the potential effect on the UK of it staying “effectively” in the single market.
Mr Blair said 2020 is “a year like no other year ... everything changed”. He spoke of his own experiences in lockdown and how he now lives his life “completely differently”, while expressing his awareness that for a lot of people “things got worse”.
He expressed his concern that lockdowns had “deepened all inequalities”, a matter that will need addressing as the world emerges from the Covid-19 pandemic. Speaking from personal experience, Mr Blair said that what he missed most was “shaking hands and embracing people and just not having Covid in your mind”.
Editor's note: The team wore masks during set-up and recording of the podcast but Mr Blair and 'The National's' Editor-in-Chief Mina Al-Oraibi, who had both received negative Covid-19 tests, chose not to during the interview for the reason of maintaining sound quality.