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Abu Dhabi, UAEMonday 25 June 2018

Former UK PM Tony Blair calls Brexit ‘a mistake of destiny’ in plea to EU for reform

The former premier said immigration reforms in Europe would help Britain “change its mind” on Brexit

Former British Prime Minister Tony Blair speaks during an event, Brexit and the EU, in Brussels. European Council President Donald Tusk met with British Prime Minister Theresa May on Thursday to discuss how to keep the Irish border open following Brexit, after she rejected the EU's proposal. Virginia Mayo/ AP Photo
Former British Prime Minister Tony Blair speaks during an event, Brexit and the EU, in Brussels. European Council President Donald Tusk met with British Prime Minister Theresa May on Thursday to discuss how to keep the Irish border open following Brexit, after she rejected the EU's proposal. Virginia Mayo/ AP Photo

Former British Prime Minister Tony Blair has called on the European Union to offer immigration reforms to UK voters so they will “change their mind” about Brexit.

In a speech in Brussels on Thursday, Mr Blair, who was a vocal supporter of the remain campaign, described Britain leaving the block as a “mistake of destiny”. He spoke a day after Sir John Major, another former prime minister, said the British negotiating strategy was “unrealistic” and warned the government was in the grip of ultra-Brexiters”.

Mr Blair told the European Policy Centre think tank “reform in Europe is key to getting Britain to change its mind” in an appeal for "a comprehensive plan on immigration control, which preserves Europe's values but is consistent with the concerns of its people and includes sensitivity to the challenges of the freedom of movement principle".

Renewing his call for a second referendum on Britain’s EU membership, he said it was wrong to say that cancelling Brexit was impossible.

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“People will say it can't happen,” the former Labour leader said. “To which I say in these times in politics anything can happen.”

When asked earlier on Thursday whether European leaders would be amenable to reforming immigration, he told BBC radio: “I think they would be prepared to consider it.

Mr Blair's comments were dismissed by Brexit-supporting lawmakers, including an MP from the ruling Conservative Party, Nigel Huddleston.

"As Tony Blair lectures today's politicians on what we should be doing on Brexit one wonders if he has the self-awareness to realise one of the key reasons we are leaving the EU is because of his inability to control immigration when he was PM for a decade," he tweeted.

Mr Blair, who was one of the negotiators of the Good Friday Agreement, said a hard border between Northern Ireland and the Republic of Ireland would be a reality if Britain leaves the customs union.

The former premier, who led the UK from 1997 to 2007, hit out at Brexit-supporting politicians who suggested the Good Friday Agreement needed to be redrawn in the wake of the power-sharing collapse at Stormont.

"I find it not just disappointing but sickening that people should really be prepared to sacrifice peace in Northern Ireland on the altar of Brexit," he told BBC radio.

Donald Tusk, the European Council president, met Theresa May on Thursday ahead of her latest speech on Brexit to be delivered in London on Friday.

Mr Tusk has called on Mrs May to give the EU "a better idea that would be as effective in preventing a hard border" on the island of Ireland.

The EU is proposing to keep a "common regulatory area" on the island of Ireland, which would mean Northern Ireland stays in the Customs Union.

The proposal, which would in effect move the border between the UK and Ireland to the Irish Sea, has been rejected by the UK government.

Mrs May has said the proposal would "threaten the constitutional integrity of the UK".

Sir John called for MPs should be given a free vote in parliament to either accept or reject the final Brexit deal.

Sir John, who served as Conservative premier between 1990 and 1997, said British people had "every right" to consider Brexit in a second referendum because the electorate had been misled by any of the Leave campaign's promises.