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Abu Dhabi, UAESaturday 20 October 2018

Delay the date of Brexit, says former UK leader Tony Blair

Mr Blair argued a delay was necessary due to "drifting" negotiations in Brussels

Former British Prime Minister Tony Blair arrives ahead of his speech at Chatham House in London. Andy Rain/ EPA
Former British Prime Minister Tony Blair arrives ahead of his speech at Chatham House in London. Andy Rain/ EPA

Former UK prime minister Tony Blair called on Wednesday for the date of Brexit to be extended beyond the deadline of March 2019, arguing that the UK government's negotiations with Brussels have been “drifting”.

Addressing international think tank Chatham House, Mr Blair, a staunch supporter of the UK remaining within the European Union, said: “The UK cannot go on like this. I have never been more worried about the future of our country than now.”

“Parliament must assert itself [regarding negotiating a deal on Brexit] because neither government nor opposition can or will," he said.

Mr Blair, who led the country between 1997 and 2007, said the British public has a right to decide what “version” of Brexit they desire.

The EU Withdrawal Bill officially became law on Tuesday but a withdrawal agreement remains under negotiation in Brussels.

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The UK’s vote to leave the EU in June 2016 triggered the Article 50 process, which enshrined into law the process by which the UK would withdraw from the EU would commence on March 29, 2019.

UK prime minister Theresa May has said that after this date, Britain will no longer be a member of the EU. However, after March 2019 there will be a "transition period" that outlines the future relationship between the UK and the bloc, which is expected to last until December 2020.

Mr Blair has suggested the transition period should also be extended beyond 2020.

The UK government is due to release a long-anticipated white paper early next week, which is set to outline its position on a post-Brexit future for the country. The paper is expected to propose an agreement on the terms of the UK’s withdrawal as well as clarify its position on a future partnership with the EU.

Georgina Wright, Research Associate at the Europe Programme at international think tank Chatham House, said the lack of progress on reaching an EU deal is largely due to uncertainty on the part of the UK government regarding what kind of deal it wants and how such a deal would work in practice.

“It is really important to be clear on the process," Ms Wright said. "At the moment we are still negotiating the terms of the UK’s withdrawal [from the EU]. It looks like we are going to have to extend the transition period because we are running out of time.”