Labour aiding ‘Tory Brexit’, says Blair

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Media captionTony Blair tells Today people should be entitled to “think again” on Brexit

Tony Blair has attacked Labour’s “timidity” on Brexit, saying it would deliver a departure from the EU designed by the “Tory right”.

He urged the party he once led to “nail” the “myths” of the Brexit campaign – and fight for the rights of voters to “think again” about leaving.

He told the BBC it was not “undemocratic” to call for a vote on the terms of an exit deal.

Labour has backed Brexit and ruled out a second referendum if it wins power.

One member of Labour’s shadow cabinet told the BBC Mr Blair’s intervention was “utterly unhelpful”.

“Lots of Labour voters voted for Brexit and this to them sounds like the metropolitan elite ignoring them,” he said.

“The whole Tony Blair project was about being on the right side of public opinion. And now look at this. Are you telling me the Tony Blair of 1994 would have said this?”

Britain is due to leave the EU on 29 March 2019, but Mr Blair said it would be too late to change course by then.

Shadow Brexit secretary Sir Keir Starmer says Labour will push for a deal that would preserve as many of the benefits of the single market and customs union as possible, as well as protecting workers’ rights and the environment.

Image caption Vote Leave supporters in Sunderland celebrate the referendum result

But Mr Blair believes this is a “confusing” strategy and is not “credible”.

“Far better to fight for the right for the country to re-think, demand that we know the full details of the new relationship before we quit the old one, go to the high ground on opposing Brexit and go after the Tories for their failures to tackle the country’s real challenges.

“Make Brexit the Tory Brexit. Make them own it 100%. Show people why Brexit isn’t, and never was, the answer.”

Mr Blair – a longstanding critic of Labour leader Jeremy Corbyn – has ditched his business interests to take a more active role in British politics through his Institute for Global Change think tank.

He has previously attacked Mr Corbyn’s stance on Brexit – prompting the Labour leader to say Mr Blair should respect the result of the 2016 EU referendum.

Richard Tice, co-chairman of the pro-Brexit Leave Means Leave campaign, said Mr Blair “and his elite gang” were “still determined to stop Brexit” and will lead the UK “to the very bad deal which we had in the single market and the customs union”.

‘Tory divisions’

Mr Blair said there were “elites on both sides” of the Brexit debate and it was not “undemocratic” to call for another vote because it was not clear what kind of relationship the UK would have with the EU when the 2016 referendum took place.

“When we see what the actual alternative is, we are perfectly entitled to say, having looked at it, we do not believe it’s a better way forward for the country than what we have now,” he told BBC Radio 4’s Today programme.

He said “democracy doesn’t just stop on one day” and “we are entitled to think again”.

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Image caption UKIP uses Tony Blair on its campaign leaflets

In Mr Blair’s latest article published on his institute’s website, he offered this advice to Jeremy Corbyn and his team: “At every PMQs nail each myth of the Brexit campaign, say why the Tory divisions are weakening our country, something only credible if we are opposed to Brexit, not advocating a different Brexit, and challenge the whole farce head on of a prime minister leading our nation in a direction which even today she can’t bring herself to say she would vote for.

“If we do leave Europe, the governing mind will have been that of the Tory right.

“But, if Labour continues to go along with Brexit and insists on leaving the single market, the handmaiden of Brexit will have been the timidity of Labour.”

Mr Blair’s comments came as his institute issued a document highlighting developments in the UK since the Brexit vote, including a downgrade in economic forecasts.

Former Lib Dem Deputy Prime Minister Sir Nick Clegg – a longstanding pro-European and supporter of cross party campaign group Open Britain – said the document shows “the eye-watering costs and sheer complexity of disentangling ourselves from our nearest neighbours and largest trading partner are becoming clearer by the day.

“People have every right to keep an open mind as to whether this is the right future for our country.”

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