William Hague has warned that overturning the result of the Brexit referendum would open up a “endless conflict” in British society, as he dismissed Tony Blair’s call for people to “rise up” against the result.
The former foreign secretary, who now sits in the House of Lords, said today it was a “great error” for ‘Remain’ campaigners to try and refight the referendum.
“Asking people to rise up to fight Brexit, which were the words a few days ago of former prime minister Tony Blair, are a great mistake,” he said.
“If there was a real chance of success of rising up successfully against leaving the EU it would open up the most protracted, bitter and potentially endless conflict in British society and politics that we have seen since the decades of debate on Irish home rule and possibly longer than that.”
Lord Hague campaigned for a ‘Remain’ vote. But said Brexit must now be accepted.
He was speaking in the at the start of a marathon debate on theEU (Notification of Withdrawal) Bill which, when passed, will allow Theresa May to trigger Article 50.
In a highly unusual move, the prime minister decided to sit in the Lords to watch the opening of the debate to drive home her message that she did not want peers “holding up what the British people want”.
Labour has said it will “not block, wreck or sabotage” the Bill. But The Lords has an anti-Tory majority and is threatening to amend the legislation to give unilateral rights to EU citizens in the UK and to give Parliament a vote on the final Brexit deal with Brussels.
Last week, Blair said Brexit could and should be avoided. “This is not the time for retreat, indifference or despair; but the time to rise up in defence of what we believe – calmly, patiently, winning the argument by the force of argument; but without fear and with the conviction we act in the true interests of Britain,” he said.
But Lord Hague, who as Tory leader in 2001 lost a general election to Blair, said while he had “enormous respect” for the former prime minister, “more than many in his own party have”, he was wrong.
“If nine months after that [2001 election] I had asked people to rise up against the result, Mr Blair would not have been very amused. He would have told me to listen to the voters. The same advice can be given to him in these circumstances,” Lord Hauge told peers.
“A country can not go round in circles. Opinions will vary over the next few years.
“We can not be leaving the EU in 2017 and remaining in it in 2018 and leaving it again in 2019 and by 2020 be too confused to know what we are doing.”
Over 180 peers are expected to speak in the Lords debate on the Bill which will continue until midnight.