Monday 21 August 2017

Blair in rallying cry for new movement to rise up against Brexit

Former British prime minister Tony Blair speaking yesterday Picture: REUTERS/Toby Melville
Former British prime minister Tony Blair speaking yesterday Picture: REUTERS/Toby Melville

Dean Gray

Tony Blair has urged pro-Europeans to "rise up" and persuade the British people they were wrong about Brexit.

The former British prime minister issued a rallying cry against the referendum vote, which he said was "based on imperfect knowledge".

Speaking at the headquarters of the Bloomberg financial news agency in London, Mr Blair said voters had backed leaving the EU without knowing the true cost and should have the opportunity to change their minds.

"I accept right now there is no widespread appetite to rethink. But the people voted without knowledge of the true terms of Brexit," he said.

"As these terms become clear, it is their right to change their mind. Our mission is to persuade them to do so."

The former Labour leader also questioned whether the referendum had given a mandate for "Brexit at any cost".

He warned that the path the British government was now pursuing meant the break-up of the UK was "back on the table", giving the SNP a much more credible case for Scottish independence.

"What was unfortunately only dim in our sight before the referendum is now in plain sight. The road we're going down is not simply hard Brexit. It is Brexit at any cost," Mr Blair added.

"Our challenge is to expose relentlessly what this cost is, to show how the decision was based on imperfect knowledge which will now become informed knowledge, to calculate in 'easy-to-understand' ways how proceeding will cause real damage to our country; and to build support for finding a way out from the present rush over the cliff's edge.

"I don't know if we can succeed. But I do know we will suffer a rancorous verdict from future generations if we do not try."

Mr Blair said that in the absence of an effective opposition, pro-Europeans needed to build a "movement" that reached across party lines.

He said that the institute which he was launching would play its part in developing the arguments to rethink the UK's position.

"The debilitation of the Labour Party is the facilitator of Brexit. I hate to say that, but it is true.

"What this means is that we have to build a movement which stretches across party lines; and devise new ways of communication," he said.

"These groups must find ways of concerting strategy and tactics effectively. We should begin to create informal links immediately and then build them into a movement with weight and reach.

"We need to strengthen the hand of the MPs who are with us and let those against know they have serious opposition to Brexit at any cost."

Mr Blair said Brexiteers had been the beneficiaries of a "propensity for revolt" which characterised the current state of politics, but that did not mean voters' views on leaving the EU were set in stone.

"They will say the will of the people can't alter. It can. They will say leaving is inevitable. It isn't. They will say we don't represent the people. We do, many millions of them and, with determination, many millions more," he said.

"This is not the time for retreat, indifference or despair; but the time to rise up in defence of what we believe - calmly, patiently, winning the argument by the force of argument; but without fear and with the conviction we act in the true interests of Britain."

Mr Blair's passionate speech came as UK retail sales showed how Brexit is hurting consumer confidence.

UK retail sales fell unexpectedly for a third month in January following on from December's dip.

Official figures, from the UK's Office for National Statistics (ONS), showed retail sales volumes dropped by 0.3pc compared with the previous month, well below the 0.9pc rise expected.

The ONS said the data indicated the first signs of a fall in the underlying trend since December 2013. It said evidence suggested higher fuel and food prices were key factors.

Compared with January 2016, sales were up 1.5pc, the weakest performance since November 2013.

Irish Independent

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