Tony Blair urges Remain-backing MPs to ‘hold firm’ as Brexit crunch looms

Posted On: 
11th October 2018

Tony Blair has called on Remain-supporting MPs to “hold firm” ahead of a potentially-explosive Commons showdown with Theresa May on Brexit.

The ex-PM said a second referendum could prompt the EU to 'negotiate a much more attractive offer for Britain staying'
Credit: 
PA

The Labour former prime minister - a longstanding critic of Britain’s planned departure from the European Union - said only a “blockage” in Parliament could force Mrs May to call a second Brexit referendum.

The fresh intervention from the ex-PM came amid signs that MPs opposed to the UK’s exit are stepping up their efforts to scupper any deal Mrs May manages to strike with the EU.

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Mrs May also faces mounting opposition from pro-Brexit backbenchers, who believe any deal modelled on her so-called ‘Chequers’ plan will leave the UK too closely tied to Brussels. They are instead pushing for a Canada-style free trade agreement with the bloc.

Meanwhile, the DUP - on whom the Government relies for its parliamentary majority - has threatened to vote against this month’s Budget if a string of guarantees on avoiding regulatory checks between Northern Ireland and the rest of the UK are not included in the Prime Minister’s deal.

Speaking at an event hosted by news agency Reuters, Mr Blair was asked how he thought MPs should handle the potential Commons impasse.

“I would advise them to hold firm against Brexit,” he said. “Either of these choices are unpalatable.

“If there is no way round this dilemma then you are going to come back with a deal that is going to be unpalatable for one of two reasons - either because people will say ‘what on earth is the point of having Brexit if you are still bound by the rules?’

“On the other hand, if you come back with what is essentially a Canada-style free-trade agreement that is going to do immense damage because you are going to have to recreate and restructure your relationships.”

Mr Blair acknowledged that the situation facing Mrs May was “difficult”.

But the Labour grandee added: “The alternatives are all worse because if you do get to a blockage in parliament that is what opens up the possibility of going back to the people.

“My view is this only happens if there is blockage in parliament. But, if there is blockage in parliament, it is a very simple argument. You say, 'look we have been two and a bit years trying to reach an agreement that works, parliament is blocked.'”

The ex-PM also claimed that a second referendum could prompt the EU to come back with a “much more attractive offer” in a bid to keep Britain inside the bloc. Ahead of the 2016 EU referendum, then-prime minister David Cameron attempted to negotiate a string of concessions from Brussels in order to convince voters to back Remain.

Mr Blair said: “If [Theresa May] actually decided that, in the event of this being paralysed in parliament, she was going to put it back to the people, then I think one other thing would happen, which would be really interesting.

“I think if she did that, in my view, Europe would step forward and would be prepared to negotiate a much more attractive offer for Britain staying.”

The Labour heavyweight - who was Prime Minister from 1997 to 2007 - has previously slammed Mrs May’s Chequers plan as "mush" that will offer Britain the "worst of all worlds" and urged both Brexiteers and Remainers in the House of Commons to vote it down.