Tony Blair calls for climate, technology and post-Brexit revolutions

Former Labour prime minister says Britain must step up its efforts to achieve net zero

Former British prime minister Sir Tony Blair says changes resulting from Brexit and other issues pose challenges that the government is ill-prepared to address. AFP

Tony Blair, the former British prime minister, has called for a triple barrelled revolution of government-led reform to transform the UK.

On Thursday he said there is urgent need for a post-Brexit regulatory shake-up, a technology overhaul and a climate-shaped transformation programme.

Mr Blair said there is “an urgent need for realism in the face of the three” key challenges facing the country.

In a speech titled “The Future of Britain” delivered to experts at Imperial College London, the former Labour leader said now is the time to push forward with bold changes that will create positive effects for generations to come.

Step up now to meet 'vastly ambitious' climate targets

Britain should treble the amount of low-carbon electricity it produces by 2040 and usher in more renewable projects on offshore wind and onshore wind, solar and hydro energy, Mr Blair said.

He said nuclear energy will be a key part of the future and so the UK must push forward new innovation in this space.

Tony Blair called for more solar, hydro and nuclear energy to be produced in the UK. AFP

He said there would soon be demand for a vast nationwide charging structure because up to 10 million electric vehicles are expected to be on British roads by the end of the decade and up to 25 million by 2035.

The decarbonisation of homes is perhaps the most pressing challenge facing ministers when meeting climate goals, he suggested, and noted the mass swapping of gas boilers to heat pumps required to meet net zero.

Mr Blair said the goals would be impossible to meet unless “major changes” are introduced.

“Net Zero by 2050 is the right commitment with interim stretching targets in power, transport and construction for 2035,” he said. “But just think of what these correct but vastly ambitious climate commitments mean.

“In a little over 10 years we will have to: double electricity supply; replace the present heating systems in 10 millon homes; turn 20 million fossil fuel cars into scrap and buy new EVs; and boost renewables by four times the present rate. And all while losing the revenue that comes from fuel duty, which will amount to an annual shortfall of £20 billion ($27.2bn) by 2035.

“There is absolutely no way this can be done without, amongst other things, major changes in planning laws; investment in new nuclear capacity; using gas as a transitional fuel; reform of electricity markets; and a credible strategy for switching our homes to low-carbon heating.”

Technology revolution will 'disrupt every part of our lives'

In his ambitious call for a technological revolution to sweep across the UK like a wave, Mr Blair laid out his vision in which authorities make further use of advancements to “make better decisions, better resolve crises, and improve people’s lives”.

He said the Conservative-led government’s approach to technology was hindering the country in many areas and said a new approach is vital.

The need for changes to the way in which technology is employed is the “most important and most impactful” of the three main challenges he mentioned.

The former politician told guests at Imperial College that the UK needs to “apply technology to areas like crime and immigration, where the only sensible way of preventing illegal immigration is a system of digital biometric ID”.

He said that UK government ministers are “much more comfortable talking about regulating Facebook, than setting out the opportunities of Ed Tech to change the way we teach and learn; or how the NHS should be completely re-thought in how it is structured and paid for”.

“Yet over the coming decade this revolution will disrupt virtually every part of our lives, including our working lives,” he said.

“Advances in AI will be dramatic. Whole sectors of the economy, both services and manufacturing, will feel the impact. As many as nine million jobs could be automated, though of course new jobs will also be created.

“It’s a revolution in the labour market. Here the government does have a plan of sorts. But measure the government’s plan against the scale of the change and it is immediately apparent how short it falls from what is necessary.”

Prosperity in the post-Brexit era

After the highly divisive Brexit years, Mr Blair said the time has come for Britain to rebuild its trust with the European Union and find a constructive way to deal with the Northern Ireland Protocol. The clause in the Brexit deal signed by both parties is proving difficult to implement and talks are ongoing to try to find a long-term solution.

To support his stance, Mr Blair pointed to the shared agendas between the UK and the 27-nation bloc on areas such as security, defence, foreign policy, climate change and cross-border trade.

He used the Office for Budget Responsibility’s estimate that the Brexit deal will lead to a 4 per cent loss of GDP for the UK to hammer home his call for a shake-up.

He said the UK government should “shift tax from labour and capital, especially post-Brexit, and find other sources of revenue, so that our tax system is not colliding with our competitiveness”

He also said ministers need to “re-think pensions for the next generation where, apart from the burgeoning cost, the circumstances of retirement will be completely different from those of today”.

'Boris Johnson lacks a coherent plan'

Mr Blair accused Prime Minister Boris Johnson of lacking a coherent blueprint for dealing with the major strategic challenges facing the UK.

He said that whether or not Mr Johnson survives the row over Downing Street parties, his biggest problem is the absence of a plan for the country’s future.

“There is a gaping hole in the governing of Britain where new ideas should be,” Mr Blair said.

“We are living through three revolutionary changes simultaneously and are ill-prepared for any of them. Each of them would require major changes to the way we work as a nation.

“All of them together pose a challenge which is unprecedented in recent history.”

“Other than a desire to give opportunity to those without it, which is obviously hard to disagree with, the slogan risks misdirecting the framing of the country’s problem.

“We face a national challenge – all the country, not simply the areas ‘left behind’.”

He said that he completely understands the rage against the reported Downing Street lockdown parties.

“Maybe Boris Johnson goes and maybe he doesn’t. But the real problem is the absence of a government plan for Britain’s future.”

Updated: January 20, 2022, 12:26 PM