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Abu Dhabi, UAEMonday 18 June 2018

Blair to EU: Brexit is your problem, too, help us avoid it

Former British prime minister to make another intervention in the debate about leaving the European Union

Tony Blair’s intervention in Brussels is an attempt to persuade European leaders that they can help avert Britain’s departure. Stephen Lock for the National
Tony Blair’s intervention in Brussels is an attempt to persuade European leaders that they can help avert Britain’s departure. Stephen Lock for the National

Former British prime minister Tony Blair will deliver a message to European Union leaders in Brussels on Thursday: Brexit is your problem, too, and you must help us avert it.

Britain’s departure from the bloc “weakens Europe’s standing and power the world over”, Mr Blair will say in a speech at the European Policy Forum in the Belgian capital, according to extracts released by his office. “Britain without Europe will lose weight and influence. But Europe without Britain will also be diminished. And both of us will be less than we are and much less than we could be together.”

The former Labour leader, who won three elections at the head of his party, but has been shunned since then by them, has made no secret of his desire to reverse Brexit, repeatedly calling for a second referendum to allow the electorate the chance to weigh up the final deal Prime Minister Theresa May secures with the EU.

But he has also acknowledged that he is the wrong person to fight that battle in Britain, tainted as he is with the electorate after the 2003 invasion of Iraq.

His intervention in Brussels is an attempt to persuade European leaders that they can help avert Britain’s departure. Mr Blair, who met with the European Parliament’s Brexit negotiator Guy Verhofstadt on Wednesday, will tell his audience that “there are three legs to the stool upon which could sit a reconsideration of Brexit”.

The first of those three legs is to persuade Britons that Brexit “has turned out much more complex and costly” than imagined – a leg that is “increasingly robust”. The second – which he described as easy to build, but lacking sufficient workers – is to show there are “different and better ways of responding to the genuine underlying grievances beneath the Brexit vote”.

“The third is a willingness on the part of Europe to respond to Brexit by treating it as a ‘wake-up’ call to change in Europe and not just an expression of British recalcitrance,” Mr Blair will say. “European leaders share the responsibility to lead us out of the Brexit cul-de-sac and find a path to preserve European unity intact.”

Britain’s leader from 1997 to 2007 will repeat a call he has made before for British people to get a “final say” on Mrs May’s Brexit deal, the second former premier to make that case in two days. His predecessor, John Major, on Wednesday said Britons have a right to “reconsider” the choice they made in 2016, and while the government has to negotiate Brexit, “not any Brexit; not at all costs; and certainly not on any terms”.