The Conservatives must understand that pushing a Brexit deal through parliament will be “the gateway” to a Jeremy Corbyn-led government, Tony Blair said this morning.
The former prime minister also said he didn’t believe Labour would vote for the Conservatives’ Brexit deal, contradicting shadow foreign secretary Emily Thornberry’s (supposedly sarcastic) claim yesterday that Labour would “probably” vote in favour of the final deal.
Speaking at an event held by UK in a Changing Europe to mark the one year anniversary of Article 50 being triggered, Blair said that if Conservative MPs were to vote for any final deal, “Brexit will then be 100 per cent owned by the Tories…and it will allow Labour to say ‘well we’d have got you a better deal and these guys didn’t get the right deal’.”
“By the time you get to 2022 [the official date of the next general election] you’ll be out of the European Union. I’ve got a feeling the 17 million who voted to leave are going to be short on gratitude and the 16 million who voted to remain are going to be long on memory,” he said. “If they’ve still got Brexit round their neck…they’re in danger of going down.”
Blair also said that another referendum on the final terms of the deal would be strategically useful for the Conservatives, as it would allow the government to pass on responsibility for Brexit – its terms, conditions, and eventual outcome – to the electorate.
Blair also reiterated his support for a new EU referendum, blaming the media for portraying a second vote as a betrayal of the British people: “If it wasn’t for the way this whole thing has gone, and for the way that that – what I call that – right-wing media cartel just keep this constant barrage of propaganda, it would be common sense to say ‘let’s wait until we see the terms of the new relationship’ before irrevocably we get out of the old one.
“It’s only in the bizarre world that’s been created that we think that this is a betrayal of the British people.”
Asked what type of question should be on the ballot paper in the event of another vote, he said: “I think the question would have to be whether you prefer this deal to staying,” but didn’t rule out the possibility for a ‘no deal’ option to feature.
In the event of a rejection of any deal, Blair said seeking an EU renegotiation would not be realistic. He also argued that if parliament voted down the deal, Theresa May should not have to resign. “She’s perfectly entitled to say ‘look I did my best and here it is’ and now it’s back for the people to vote.”
Blair’s comments followed his appearance on the Today programme this morning, during which he said cancelling Brexit was becoming “more likely”. Blair also said that the rest of the world didn’t buy the claims Britain was making about its life outside the EU: “We shouldn’t kid ourselves – the rest of the world do not see this as globally ambitious Britain. They really don’t. They think, ‘Brits, you guys were always common sense people’.”
Asked if he felt guilty for legitimising referendums as an acceptable tool of constitutional decision making, Blair laughed: “Well, err…every situation on its own merits. I think if you’re going to change radically the constitutional relationship of the country there’s a case for having a referendum, which is why we did it on devolution.”
Blair, meanwhile, dodged questions on Jeremy Corbyn’s leadership and future prospects, joking: “Leave aside the wisdom – or otherwise – of a Corbyn government for the moment … I won’t be drawn on that, today at least.” The former Labour leader also said it was important to understand that the reasons for staying in the EU today are not the same reasons for Britain joining decades ago: “It’s not about peace today it’s about power.”