LONDON, U.K. - Former U.K. Prime Minister, Tony Blair made a sensational claim on Saturday, pointing out that Brexit can be stopped if Britain’s leaders realise the EU will “meet us halfway” on restricting the free movement of people.
Blair has commented on the election campaign, adding the result was “remarkable” and conceded it was one that he did not foresee.
In his first intervention since the general election, the former Labour Prime Minister has admitted there is “no groundswell” for a second referendum on membership of the EU.
He said it is possible that the will of the British people could change as the public becomes more aware of the potential economic damage of hard Brexit.
Indicating skepticism about soft Brexit, he said it would mean Britain remaining in the single market and the customs union, adding the political difficulties are evident.
He said, “It would lead in short order to a scratch of the British collective head and feeling of ‘oh well, in that case, what’s the point of leaving?”
Blair wrote in an eight-page article on Brexit and the centre in European politics, “Rational consideration of the options would sensibly include the option of negotiating for Britain to stay within a Europe itself prepared to reform and meet us halfway.”
He suggested reform is now on Europe’s agenda and EU leaders are willing “to consider changes to accommodate Britain” including around the freedom of movement.
EU leaders have consistently said that there will be no compromise on free movement, which is one of the bloc’s founding principles.
Nick Clegg, the former Deputy Prime Minister, has previously also relayed similar discussions with EU officials willing to give ground to Britain.
Describing Brexit as the “biggest political decision since the Second World War,” he added, “Given what is at stake, and what, daily we are discovering about the costs of Brexit, how can it be right deliberately to take off the table the option of compromise between Britain and Europe so that Britain stays within a reformed Europe? It is not too late for the country to grip its own destiny, change the terms of the Brexit debate and turn its attention to the true challenges the nation faces.”
Blair, commenting on the election said, “I pay tribute to Jeremy Corbyn’s temperament in the campaign, to the campaign’s mobilisation of younger voters and to the enthusiasm it generated.”
In his article, he warned Corbyn’s supporters not to “exaggerate” the victory and for critics not to “understate” his gains.
He said, “He tapped into something real and powerful, as Bernie Sanders has in the USA and left groups have done all over Europe.”
Warning that losses in Middlesborough and Stoke “were alarming,” he added that unexpected victories in constituencies such as Kensington and Chelsea and Canterbury were “amazing.”
Blair continued, “The Labour party should be cautious in thinking ‘one more heave’ will deliver victory next time. The Corbyn campaign was a positive factor in the election result, but the determining factor was the Tory campaign. The Corbyn enthusiasm, especially amongst the young, is real, but I would hesitate before saying that all those voted to make him Prime Minister; or that they supported the body of the programme rather than its tone.”
Blair also urged Corbyn to “champion a position on Europe radically distinct from the Tories” and reach out to members of the Parliamentary Labour Party (PLP) with experience in government.
He pointed out, “If Labour continues to be for leaving the single market, and the signs are that it will, then we are essentially for the same policy as the Government. This will become apparent to those who voted Remain. But more than that, it puts us in the same damaging position for the economy as the Tories; and in circumstances where we are also trying to end austerity through spending programmes which, to be clear, are larger than any Labour Party has ever proposed.”
John McDonnell meanwhile hit back at Tony Blair’s criticism of Labour’s failure to fight a hard Brexit, describing him as out of touch with the public.
He said, ‘To be frank, Mr Blair hasn’t really listened to the nature of the debate that is going on in the pubs, the clubs and school gates.”
Speaking at a strike rally for low-paid hospital workers in east London, McDonnell insisted the result of the referendum had to be respected.
He said, “What most people want now is a Brexit that will protect the economy, protect their jobs and not affect their living standards. We think we can negotiate access and that will protect jobs and will protect the economy. If we can change the tone of the negotiations into one which is based upon mutual interests and mutual respect, we can get more flexibility.”
McDonnell added, “To be frank, Mr Blair hasn’t really listened to the nature of the debate that is going on in the pubs, the clubs and school gates etc.”
Corbyn too dismissed Blair’s intervention and said that the party “recognises the result of the referendum a year ago.”