Transcript of Tony Blair’s interview on CNN’s New Day, 20 November 2014
Alisyn Camerota: OK, Chris, we are joined by someone who is no stranger to fighting over legislation, Tony Blair, former British prime minister of course. He's currently a Middle East quartet representative. Last night he was honored with the save the children global legacy award for his work in Africa. Welcome.
Tony Blair: Thank you.
Alisyn Camerota: Great to have you on NEW DAY.
Tony Blair: It's very good of you to have me.
Alisyn Camerota: All right, so what do you think about the Battle Royale that is brewing in Washington, D.C., because the president is threatening tonight to go it alone with executive action outside of the bounds of Congress, and that is not sitting well with Congress?
Tony Blair: I think I've got enough problems without dealing with your political problems.
By the way, in the U.K. right now the biggest single issue is probably immigration, go to France, biggest issue, immigration, go to Germany, biggest issue, immigration. It's a really tough question because you want to legitimize people who have been in your country for a long time. On the other hand you want rules and controls because there's a limit. So it is a really tough issue.
Alisyn Camerota: What is the answer to it?
Tony Blair: Well, I think, I mean when I was dealing with it, I had this one mantra, and this has nothing to do with the president tonight and that's an issue for you. I always say you can have rules but not prejudice.
Chris Cuomo: How do you deal with it from a leadership perspective? You've written a lot about this. The parliamentary system, while very similar, there's a lot more overtness to the, often hostility there. They'll literally get up and shout at you as you present what's going on. This is this patina, this faux politeness when the president speaks here. But in terms of how you deal with the parties when they are hostile to you and often in your case more than two parties, what did you learn in your time as prime minister?
Tony Blair: On the really difficult decisions your responsibility is to do what you think is right. And you can't, you're not going to please people. When you decide, you divide, so the moment you put the decision in front of people, there are going to be people attacking it.
Chris Cuomo: And how do you get them to work when they say they won't?
Tony Blair: That's really tough. Look, you've got to try and do what you can to separate those who won't work with you whatever you do and those people who might be prepared to work with you. But then you've also got to take it out to public opinion. But an issue like immigration is a very raw emotional issue for people.
And by the way, these decisions are difficult. They're difficult either way, and I sympathize with the president and -- well, anyway, that's to say that's a matter for him and you guys and I don't have a vote in that.
Michaela Pereira: It's interesting you bring up what's going on around the world. It's interesting, I wonder how when you are in a position of leadership you cut through the noise, because there is so much of it, especially if you look at what's going on here in America. And you've dealt with this as well, as a leader, getting very quiet, trusting your gut, and leading without weighing, you know, letting either side sway you.
Tony Blair: Right, and I think it's more difficult today because social media multiplies conventional media, and the result of it is you're taking decisions with a barrage of noise.
Michaela Pereira: Sure.
Tony Blair: A leader in Europe the other day said to me I've had 80,000 people on Twitter say this, and maybe I have to go that way. I was saying to him, what does that mean? Does it mean, that's 80,000 representing 80,000, or represent 8 million? It's very hard to work this out. So in the end, you know, I came to power after losing four elections, my party had lost four elections, and I wanted to please all of the people all of the time. And by the time I was through the responsibility ultimately is to do what you think is right on these big issues, and then the people can judge you and like it or not.
Alisyn Camerota: Another complicated issue we want to you weigh in on is what's going on in Israel, all of the violence in Jerusalem and obviously beyond. As a world leader, where do you start? This is such an intractable problem.
Tony Blair: It is, and it was a horrific crime, the attack in the synagogue, just a disgusting and appalling thing to do. First you have to stabilize the situation. You've got try and get some calm, the absence of provocative actions on both sides. But where there's a vacuum in the Middle East peace process, this is what you get. So I hope in the near future we will have a re-launch of some form of political dialogue which brings the parties into negotiation with each other, and then you've got to change facts on the ground. We've got Gaza, been through the terrible situation there, Jerusalem, which is very tricky, West Bank. We need to start moving the economy, make sure the security corporation is in place and try and improve people's lives a little.
Chris Cuomo: Do you believe that Israel should relax some of the restrictions on Gaza to allow for more commerce and more freedom of movement? I know there's two different sides to that issue, but what is your thought?
Tony Blair: Yes, they should, provided we can put in place the right mechanisms that give security protection, the material coming in, which I think we can. But it's very important for people in Gaza still, thousands of families whose homes have been destroyed and they need housing. But you've got a big problem there, where you have Hamas in charge of Gaza and you know, they still have not come to terms with the fact that the state of Israel exists and is going to carry on existing.
Chris Cuomo: Do you think it's more religious now than it's ever before, and if so, should there be religious leaders more involved on both sides?
Tony Blair: That's a very good question. I think there is a religious dimension, there always has been. But when you're talking about the holy sites in Jerusalem, you need religious leaders involved and coming together and saying look, we've all got the right to worship here so let's do it in a respectful way.
Michaela Pereira: I was going to say, given your tremendous honor for your work in Africa, obviously Africa in many fashions has been making its way into our headlines here stateside, both with the battle against Ebola but also the situation with Boko Haram and the plight of those children. There are so many things we could ask you for your assessment on, but what is need in some of these areas? For example, when you look at a situation with Boko Haram, there's almost, it seems that the military is helpless, the leaders are not providing any insight on how they can stop the destruction and what they're doing to these children in villages. What is your sense of what can be done?
Tony Blair: My sense is that you need to operate on this at two levels. You've got Boko Haram in Nigeria but you've got Al Shaabab in Somalia, you've got ISIS in Syria and Iraq, you get al Nusra in Syria, you've got these groups all over the world, frankly. It's a global problem. You have it in the far east. You have it in central Asia. So I think you have to do two things. You have to be prepared to fight them when they are committing these atrocities and destroying people's lives. But we also, and this is something my foundation, one is about Africa and the other is about interfaith relationships and how you counter religious extremism. In northern Nigeria and elsewhere and places like Pakistan you have millions of children, young children educated in madrasas formally and informally to a religiously extreme view of the world. Ten, 15 years later you shouldn't be surprised that some of those turn into extremists.
So one thing I think we have to put on the agenda globally is to say all education systems, it's should be your responsibility, there should be responsibility is on the environment. There should be responsible on governments to ensure that you promote religious tolerance and root our religious prejudice. And this should be a factor in international relationships.
I'd like to see the international forums and governments put this on the table and say come on, you know, there's no -- we can take all these security measures and we'll have to probably for a generation or more, but if you are educating young people to a warped view of the world, you're not teaching them science and technology, just teaching them one view of religion, you're going to have a problem.
Alisyn Camerota: Tell us about this event last night where you were honored by Save the Children.
Tony Blair: This is a great thing about really about the work we've done in Africa over the past few years and also I've just come back from the Ebola countries in West Africa, I was there last week, where we're slowly getting on top of it, it's still a crisis situation and still a lot of urgency and speed necessary.
But, you know, apart from that, there's a bigger part from that, there's lots of African countries making progress and we should celebrate that as well as focus on the crisis.
Alisyn Camerota: It's good to know. Great message to end on.
Tony Blair: Thank you.
Alisyn Camerota: Prime Minister Tony Blair, great to you. Thanks so much.
Tony Blair: Thank you very much.
Chris Cuomo: Well done, sir.
Tony Blair: Thank you.
Chris Cuomo: Well done, sir, for your work around the world. Appreciate it and great to have you on the set.
Watch the interview here.