Tony Blair: 'Timid' Labour leadership giving Tories free ride by failing to oppose Brexit

Posted On: 
3rd January 2018

Tony Blair has launched an outspoken attack on Labour's approach to Brexit - accusing the party of "timidity" for not campaigning to keep the UK in the European Union.

Tony Blair has criticised Jeremy Corbyn's approach to Brexit.
Credit: 
PA Images

The former Prime Minister said the Labour frontbench's insistence that Britain could leave the European single market and customs union while still retaining the benefits of membership were "confusing".

He also predicted the party would end up being seen as "the handmaiden of Brexit" for failing to back a fresh referendum on the terms of the deal Theresa May strikes with Brussels.

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And he said Jeremy Corbyn should be using every Prime Minister's Questions to "nail each myth of the Brexit campaign (and) say why the Tory divisions are weakening our country".

Mr Blair made his criticisms in an article for his Institute for Global Change in which he also hit out at Theresa May's "farcical" approach to the Brexit negotiations.

He said: "I would like the Labour party to be on the high ground of progressive politics, explaining why membership of the European Union is right as a matter of principle, for profound political as well as economic reasons.

"I disagree with our present position strategically. But even tactically, it is mistaken.

"First, because the Labour party is saying that we too would do Brexit, we cannot attack its vast distractive impact. Labour could mount such a powerful assault on the Government’s record from the appalling state of the NHS to crime, which through neglect and failure to support the police is on the rise again, if we were saying to the country: 'here's the agenda which could be delivered for the people were not for the fact that all the energies of government and substantial amounts of cash are devoted to Brexit.

"And, second, it puts us in a vulnerable position when the Government concludes ‘the deal’ some time in 2018."

Mr Blair said Labour was pursuing a "cake and eat it" approach to Brexit.

"The Shadow Chancellor says we will not be in ‘the’ single market but ‘a’ single market. The Shadow Industry Minister talks of keeping the benefits of the customs union agreements but still being free to negotiate our own trade deals. This is confusing terrain on which to fight.

"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."

He added: "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."

But a spokesman for Jeremy Corbyn defended Labour's approach.

He said: "Labour accepts and respects the result of the EU referendum. We are arguing for a jobs first Brexit, which prioritises full tariff free access to the single market.

"We want a time-limited transition deal that maintains the same basic terms we currently enjoy with the EU. That means we would seek to remain in a customs union with the EU and within the single market during this period.

"We want a final deal that retains the benefits of the customs union and the single market. Options for achieving the benefits of the customs union should not be swept off the table. Labour is flexible as to whether the benefits of the single market are best retained by negotiating a new relationship with the single market or by a bespoke trade deal."