POLITICS
02/09/2019 11:46 BST

Tony Blair Hints He Would Back Corbyn To Block A No-Deal Brexit

The former PM admitted it was a "dilemma" as he discussed options for defeating Boris Johnson's plans.

Tony Blair has suggested he would vote for Jeremy Corbyn if it was the only way to stop a no-deal Brexit. 

The former prime minster, and long-time critic of the Labour leader, has called on his successor to refuse a general election, however, saying it offers Boris Johnson the chance to ram through a damaging no-deal Brexit. 

Blair, who earlier this year three times refused to confirm he would vote Labour in future, admitted he felt a “dilemma”.

It comes ahead of a showdown in parliament this week, with opposition MPs trying to fast-track legislation to block no-deal on October 31 and Johnson appearing to inch towards forcing a general election. 

If passing a new law to force Johnson to seek an extension to the Article 50 deadline fails, MPs could table a motion of no-confidence in the government, and back Corbyn, or another unifying figure such as Tory Remainer Ken Clarke, as a caretaker PM. 

Blair told an audience at the Institute for Government on Monday: “I personally believe so strongly on Brexit I would do anything to stop it,” adding: “On the other hand it’s no great secret that people like me have real issues with the [Corbyn] programme [for government].”

Blair said Corbyn “might be tempted by an election” because he may “gain support from people who may not entertain his leadership” otherwise.

But he warned that a general election with a split opposition could produce a “comfortable Tory majority” unless parties work together.

Asked if Labour could win a general election, he said “it is conceivable” but added: “Look at the polling. If I was polling at 20% when I was leader of the opposition, I would have had people knocking at my door.”

Blair said Johnson knows that no-deal “on its own may fail” if it was put to the people via a fresh referendum.

He added: “Boris Johnson knows if no-deal stands on its own it may fail, but if it is mixed up with the Brexit and Labour question it may well win.”

Blair also called for people to be “realistic” about Britain’s lack of leverage in any post-no-deal Brexit trade deal negotiations with America. 

He said although US President Donald Trump and Johnson appeared close and there was a “fluffy atmosphere” that in future “interests will emerge” and trade deals “are notoriously difficult”. 

He said the US-UK relationship was unequal and Brexiteers “seem to think self-belief can overcome reality”. 

He said: “We will inevitably through Brexit get closer to America. I am a passionate believer in the Transatlantic alliance, as people know, but I also know if you look at the relationship just as a bilateral relationship, it is not a relationship of equals.” 

He went on to make a football analogy. 

“When people say it is equal between US and the UK, it’s not,” he said. “It’s not that you’re saying Britain is not a good country. It’s like saying if Man City is playing Port Vale we are likely to win. 

“We’re not Port Vale, we’re more like maybe Newcastle, right?” 

If the UK leaves the EU, Blair said he does not believe the UK would be able to “enter again in a few years” and the consequence will be to “diminish Britain globally”.

He said: “In a short amount of time the world will be big global blocks – USA, China and probably India.”

He added: “We will be driven to be a competitor with Europe.”

Former PM Gordon Brown also made an intervention in the Brexit debate on Monday. 

He said it would be seen as a “constitutional outrage” if the government did not abide by legislation to stop a no-deal Brexit. 

In a BBC interview on Sunday, the cabinet minster for no-deal preparations Michael Gove three times refused to confirm whether Johnson would abide by new legislation. 

Speaking on a visit to Homebaked co-operative bakery in Liverpool, Brown said ignoring the law would have “major consequences for our democracy” .

He said: “We were told that we were leaving the European Union to uphold parliamentary sovereignty and if the government themselves are prepared to abandon parliamentary sovereignty in the interests of their own ideology or their own dogma, then I think most people round the country would see that as a constitutional outrage and they would not want to support it, and, indeed, would be complaining about that happening.”

Asked if he thought the current Labour leadership was doing enough to stop a no-deal Brexit, Brown said: “Yes. I think what Jeremy Corbyn is doing is coming together with all the parties in the House of Commons to get a majority against a no-deal Brexit.

“This is the priority at the moment – to stop a no-deal Brexit in its tracks, to stop the consequences for ordinary families that this would involve.”