Tony Blair on EU exit: The will of the people is entitled to change
Tony Blair has argued Britain must “keep its options open” on holding a second referendum on the UK’s membership of the European Union.
The former prime minister said claims made by Leave campaigners have “somewhat collapsed” since the referendum result and added that the “will of the people is entitled to change”.
He called on David Cameron and George Osborne to sound out EU leaders’ views on Britain’s post-Brexit deal in the coming months, and encouraged MPs to scrutinise the negotiations to see if the outcome is in the UK’s best interests.
The former Labour leader also suggested the formal process of quitting the bloc should not be triggered until the consequences of last week’s vote become clear.
Brits backed Brexit by 51.9% to 48.1% in June’s referendum, while Mr Cameron has left it to his successor in Number 10 to initiate Article 50, the legal mechanism for leaving the EU.
EU leaders have said informal talks would not take place until Article 50 has been triggered, but Mr Blair said discussions should begin to ensure a deal is secured in the UK’s “national interest”.
When asked whether he believes the triggering of Article 50 should be delayed, Mr Blair told Sky News:
“There will be a limit to how long we can do that, but absolutely I think we should keep all our options open, frankly, in my view, for as long as it takes to get an idea of what the other side looks like. I mean what is it that we’re going to agree, what is the real impact on business?”
Mr Blair also suggested public opinion could turn against Brexit if the UK suffers as a result of leaving the EU.
“The most important thing right now is you’ve got a situation where okay, it’s clear there was a vote to leave, but it wasn’t 70-30 or 60-40, it was 52-48,” he said.
“I mean let’s be very blunt about it, some of the claims made for the Brexit case have somewhat collapsed. Even in the week since we’ve been doing this, you find Conservative people who were campaigning for Brexit saying a few years ago it actually would be a disaster to leave the EU. So you’ve got a very strange atmosphere around all this.”
He insisted he was not arguing in favour of a second referendum, but instead that all options should be available.
“I don’t think you can override the settled will of the people, but my point is very simple: it was 52-48,” he said.
“Supposing some weeks or months down the line, as it becomes clear what we’re moving to, because as I say odd thing about the referendum we knew what we were getting out of, we don’t know what we’re getting into, as that becomes clear, if it’s clear that these terms are bad for us, if we have major parts of business and the financial sector saying look this is not a good deal for us, if people start to worry about their jobs, we should just keep our options open.
“I’m not saying we have another referendum, I’m not saying we can revisit this. I’m simply saying, there’s no rule about this, we are a sovereign people we can do what we want to do.
“Parliament, of course it shouldn’t override the will of the people, but it is also the job of parliament to express the will of the people and to make sure that they scrutinise carefully what this new deal might be.”
Former SNP leader Alex Salmond questioned whether Mr Blair's comments were an “enormous asset” to the cause of Remain campaigners.