Jeremy Corbyn has gently hit back at Tony Blair and described his call for people to “rise up” against leaving the EU “unhelpful”.
In a speech in the City of London on Friday morning, Blair said Corbyn bore some of the blame for Brexit as there was currently an “absence of an Opposition which looks capable on the polls of beating the Government”.
He added: “The debilitation of the Labour Party is the facilitator of Brexit. I hate to say that, but it is true.”
Speaking at Labour’s conference on local government at Warwick University on Saturday, Corbyn told reporters the comments were “unhelpful”, adding: “The referendum gave a result, gave a very clear decision on this, and we have to respect that decision, that’s why we didn’t block Article 50.
“But we are going to be part of all this campaigning, all these negotiations about the kind of relationship we have in Europe in the future.
“The referendum happened, let’s respect the result. Democracy happened, respect the result.”
Corbyn denied Blair’s accusations of a weak Labour party by highlighting a surge in membership to over half a million.
He said: “I don’t quite know what Tony means there. Our party membership has more than doubled, we had a big campaign to remain and reform the European Union.
“We are now pursuing a policy which will try and protect jobs and conditions across this country but also maintain a good relationship with colleagues across Europe.”
A poll by YouGov suggests many people agree that Blair should stay out of Brexit affairs.
But another shows Corbyn isn’t the public’s first choice either.
Suggesting Blair’s input could be useful elsewhere, Corbyn added: “I think it would be helpful if people put their energies in the direction of building those good relations and ensuring we have a viable economy, not some offshore tax haven bargain basement, doing deals with Trump’s America.
“My job is to take our party forward into an investment-led economy that reduces inequality in this country, that builds houses when people need them, that gets the good jobs people need in the hi-tech industries the National Investment Bank will fund.
“Get on board with that strategy.”
On Friday Blair also turned on the press for being too anti-EU and wanting to “beat anyone up” who is opposed to Brexit.
“There is an effective cartel of media on the right, which built the ramp for pro-Brexit propaganda during the campaign; is now equally savage in its efforts to say it is all going to be ‘great’ and anyone who says otherwise is a traitor or moaner; and who make it very clear to the prime minister that she has their adulation for exactly as long as she delivers Brexit,” he said.
“It hugely skews the broadcast coverage. For example, a week ago there was the annual survey of top business bosses of the leading UK companies. Over half said Brexit was already having an adverse effect on their business. And half did not have confidence in the Government negotiating a good deal.”
“It led the Financial Times. It was barely covered elsewhere. The BBC had it as an item of business news.
“Suppose the survey had come to the opposite conclusion. It would have had at least four papers headlining it and would therefore have featured prominently on the broadcasts.”
In his speech, the former prime minister who was a strong advocate of ‘Remain’ in the referendum said Brexit should not be inevitable.
“If our Government were conducting a negotiation which genuinely sought to advance our country’s interests, that negotiation would include the possibility of Britain staying in a reformed Europe,” he said.
“The people voted without knowledge of the true terms of Brexit. As these terms become clear, it is their right to change their mind. Our mission is to persuade them to do so.”
Blair also attacked May and other senior ministers for not being so “obsessive” about Brexit the NHS and other areas of government were being neglected.
“The Prime Minister and his Government are not masters of this situation, they are not driving the bus. They are being driven,” he said.
“Our duty is to give answers, not ride anger. This Government is a mono-purpose political entity. Nothing matters apart from Brexit.”
Responding to Blair’s speech, Conservative MP Dominic Raab, member of the Exiting the European Union Select Committee, said: “He wants to go on putting the question over and over again until he gets a different answer. It is the height of arrogance and nothing could be more likely to convince the EU to offer the UK the worst possible deal than his suggestion that the decision could be overturned.”