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Abu Dhabi, UAEThursday 17 January 2019

Tony Blair makes fresh pitch for second Brexit referendum

Giving the British people a second chance to vote in a ‘final say’ plebiscite is the most democratic way forward

Mr Blair said that the country was “in crisis” and “bitterly divided”. EPA
Mr Blair said that the country was “in crisis” and “bitterly divided”. EPA

Former British prime minister Tony Blair made his strongest intervention yet in the Brexit debate on Friday, telling a People’s Vote event that with the government “out of control”, the country should place its fate in the hands of the voters with a new referendum.

Mr Blair, a Europhile who was prime minister of the UK between 1997 and 2007, said that the country was “in crisis” and “bitterly divided”, and that the government was “preoccupied by Brexit to the exclusion of all else when so much else requires urgent attention”.

“Survey the political wreckage of the past weeks… Chaos, the character of the process; and no viable solution in sight. The clock which should never have been set ticking now ticking ever louder as we approach the midnight hour,” he said, referring to current prime minister Theresa May’s torrid week which involved a vote of no confidence by her own party on Wednesday.

“All of this while domestically, in the last 24 hours alone, we have seen reports of 12 hour waits for beds in A&E doubled, the highest level of knife and weapons offences since 2010 and a 120% rise in rough sleeping.”

Europe, he noted, “to a degree also has a Brexit crisis. Everyone believing that they are obliged to facilitate something which everyone thinks is a bad idea, for Europe and for Britain. Each of them is aware that in a changing world Brexit will make Europe weaker and our values harder to protect. Yet all feeling a strange compulsion to carry on.”

It doesn’t have to be this way, said Mr Blair, who won three elections for the Labour party but is viewed with suspicion by the current leadership and much of the membership. “We are not hypnotised to do this. We can assume consciousness. We have free will. It is past time to exercise it.”

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He rejected attempts to negotiate a form of Brexit that would somehow not be damaging to the country, and argued instead that the issue of delivering a decision that respected the will of the British people, who voted 52% to 48% to leave the EU, was to ask if that mandate was for a “disastrous” ‘no deal’.

“To insist that we crash out with all the disastrous implications of such a thing, rather than put the matter back to the people, would be an extraordinary dereliction of duty,” he said.

Referring to the growing backlog of non-Brexit issues, he asked “how can it be said that in these circumstances, given the riot of confusion... it is wrong to go back to the people and ask that they clarify whether they wish now, in the light of all this, to remain or leave?”

Appealing to MPs to assume control, Mr Blair said: “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.”

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In a stirring exhortation, he told MPs “our fate is in our hands. Think of what is right. Think of future generations. Think of why we came into politics. Think through what is necessary to do; and then do it!”

Meanwhile in Brussels, Mrs May’s week went from bad to worse when she was caught on camera having a furious bust-up with President of the European Commission Jean-Claude Juncker in Brussels ahead of today’s summit.

Although no audio exists of the clash, Channel 5 news provide a subtitled version which appears to suggest that Mrs May was angry at being called “nebulous” by Mr Juncker in a briefing early on Friday morning.

Mrs May confirmed there had been a "robust" exchange of views with Mr Juncker. She said she would continue to seek assurances from the EU that could help get her plan through parliament to avoid a no-deal Brexit.

"It's in the overwhelming interests of all our people in the EU and the UK to get this done and as quickly as possible," she told reporters after talks with EU leaders.

Updated: December 14, 2018 05:38 PM

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