Monday 20 May 2019

Blair to tell EU leaders to prepare for 'probability' UK will extend Article 50 to allow for second referendum

Catastrophic effects: Tony Blair is worried about the impact of Brexit. Photo: REUTERS
Catastrophic effects: Tony Blair is worried about the impact of Brexit. Photo: REUTERS

Harriet Line

European leaders must prepare for the "probability" that Britain will need to stay in the EU beyond March 2019 to allow for a second referendum, Tony Blair is set to urge.

The former prime minister will say the UK will require an extension to Article 50 - the two-year period for leaving the EU - either to negotiate further or for a so-called "People's Vote".

As EU leaders meet in Brussels for a European Council summit, Mr Blair will use a speech in central London on Friday morning to reiterate his support for another referendum and urge Europe to make clear they want the UK to stay.

He is expected to say: "Europe should prepare for the possibility now morphing into the near probability that Britain will require an extension of time to the Article 50 process, either to negotiate further or more likely to conduct a new referendum.

"We are now entering a new phase of Brexit. Government has lost the initiative. Parliament has taken it. We know the options for Brexit. Parliament will have to decide on one of them. If Parliament can't then it should decide to go back to the people.

"Now should be the time of preparation - Parliament to make sure it can canvas the options in sensible manner, one by one, to reach agreement on an option or a referendum; Europe to ensure that if Britain is ready to think again, Europe is ready also to think again.

"All that is necessary is for leadership: in Parliament if not in Government, and in Europe where despite all the myriad of challenges European leaders have, they should understand that changing Brexit would be the greatest boost to Europe's economy and politics and that therefore, they need to focus on the part they can play and play it."

The former Labour leader will also say it is "bizarre" that EU leaders feel obliged to deliver Brexit despite not believing in it.

"Not one believes this course is better than Britain staying in Europe. All of them recognise that in years to come this decision will be regretted by future generations," he will say.

"Yet all feel a strange compulsion to carry on... Things do not need to be like this. We have free will. It is past time to exercise it. Brexit is not some form of natural disaster, Brexit is man-made."

Mr Blair's latest intervention on Brexit comes a week after he warned Theresa May she faced the prospect of "hitting a brick wall at speed" with a vote on her Brexit plan, which was later pulled.

Press Association

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