John Major and Tony Blair in new Brexit warning as second referendum campaigners take to the streets

Posted On: 
18th October 2019

Former political rivals Sir John Major and Tony Blair have warned that Boris Johnson's Brexit proposals could "break apart the United Kingdom" ahead of a major London march for a second referendum.

Campaigners for a second Brexit referendum will march on Parliament as MPs debate Boris Johnson's Brexit deal.
Credit: 
PA

The former Prime Ministers issued a joint video to be broadcast during Saturday's 'People's Vote Together for the Final Say' rally in Westminster, which organisers predicted would see "hundreds of thousands" turn out to demand a fresh public vote.

The ex-Tory and ex-Labour leaders previously teamed up during the 2016 referendum campaign to warn about the potential impact of a Brexit on Northern Ireland.

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In the video, Sir John said leaving the EU would "raise strains we know of and strains we haven't yet thought of".

And he said: "That may well end up with dividing a United Kingdom that has been together for a very long time. It is a thoroughly bad idea.

"I find it very difficult to understand as a former leader of the Conservative Party, why it is the Conservative and Unionist Party is taking action that may in the future break apart the United Kingdom. That seems to be an extraordinary thing, and I cannot imagine any previous generation of Conservatives putting at risk the Union in the way that has now happened."

Meanwhile Mr Blair, one of the original signatories of the 1998 Good Friday peace agreement, said the "careful, painstaking" work of communities in Northern Ireland risked being undermined if Britain leaves the EU.

"It was a framework for peace, for prosperity, for partnership between the communities of Northern Ireland and between the UK and the Republic," he said of the accord.

“Now either there is a hard border between Northern Ireland and Britain or a hard border between the north and south of Ireland. 

"And it is a shame and an outrage that peace in Northern Ireland is now treated as some disposable inconvenience to be bartered away in exchange for satisfying the obsession of the Brexiteers with wrenching our country out of Europe."

Both party grandees leaders will reiterate their calls for a second referendum, with Sir John arguing that it would make sure any agreement had "the support of the people in Northern Ireland".

"[Another] powerful reason for looking at the question of a confirmatory referendum, not out of any spite or disinterest or disregard for the first result, [is] because there are two million people who voted in that referendum who sadly are no longer with us," he said.

“And two and a half million young people who are now on the register who may have very different views about our future in Europe and also a complete generation in Northern Ireland who will have known of their past, who will not wish that past to return again in any form… Now they are old enough wish to express their views in a referendum as to the future of their country and their prospects and their life."

Mr Blair added: "These Brexiteers talk about the will of the people.  But in 2016 our knowledge was necessarily limited. Now, three years on, three years of mess, misery and mayhem, when our knowledge is vastly expanded by experience, how can it be undemocratic to ask the British people their final opinion?"

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The intervention from the former leaders comes as second referendum supporters prepare to march through Westminster while MPs vote on the Prime Minister's Brexit agreement.

Those calling for a second referendum will depart from Park Lane to Parliament Square mid-day on Saturday, with a string of MPs joining members of the public as the protest makes it way through central London.

Senior politicians confirmed as attending the march include Labour's Sadiq Khan, Tom Watson, Sir Keir Starmer and Emily Thornberry; Liberal Democrat leader Jo Swinson; Conservative grandee Lord Heseltine; and the SNP's Joanna Cherry and Ian Blackford.

MPs will also launch a fresh bid to secure a second referendum on Saturday if the Commons ends up rejecting Mr Johnson's agreement, it has emerged.

An amendment has been tabled for the Government's own motion calling for no-deal Brexit - which could be moved if MPs kill off the Prime Minister's deal - which says the House "rejects leaving the European Union without a deal" and believes "any final decisions" on Brexit "should be subject to a confirmatory referendum before exit day".