Second Referendum And General Election Could Be Held Same Day, Says Blair

No-deal could follow "very ugly and very difficult" trade deal talks with EU, ex-PM warns.

A snap election and a second referendum on Brexit could be held on the same day, Tony Blair has said.

But the former prime minister said Labour should not agree to any new poll until it has forced Boris Johnson to take no-deal off the table, not just when the Brexit deal deadline expires but throughout all future trade talks with Brussels.

His intervention comes as opposition MPs are at loggerheads over how to block no-deal Brexit while also agreeing to the early general election Boris Johnson will call for in parliament on Monday.

In an interview with Carolyn Quinn for BBC Radio 4′s Westminster Hour, Blair warned if UK-EU trade talks opened and MPs agreed to retain the threat of no-deal then “very ugly and very difficult” talks risked ending in 2020 with a crash-out.

Reiterating his call for Brexit to be sorted out separately from a general election, he said Labour leader Jeremy Corbyn could agree for the two votes to be held on the same day.

Former prime minister Tony Blair
Former prime minister Tony Blair

MPs backed Johnson’s withdrawal agreement bill - which writes his new deal with Brussels into UK law - at its second reading stage, but ripped up the fast-track timetable for the legislation to be pushed through parliament.

Fearing the bill will face pro-Remain amendments on concessions such as a customs union or second public vote, Johnson has called for a snap election - but two-thirds of MPs must agree, meaning the Labour frontbench must back him.

Labour’s Diane Abbott told the Andrew Marr Show on Sunday that Johnson must come to the Commons and “unequivocally” rule out no-deal.

But Blair told the BBC in a programme due to air at 10pm on Sunday: “The sensible thing for him [Jeremy Corbyn] to say to Boris Johnson is, ‘Yes, I’ll agree to your general election, but you’ve got to agree to timetable proper scrutiny of your bill and allow us to amend that so that we rule out no deal as the outcome of the future negotiation’. Because otherwise Jeremy Corbyn hasn’t prevented no deal.”

He added: “[Corbyn] can make that happen. He can say the moment that’s done properly, he’s up for a general election. But it’s got to encompass the future negotiations and not simply the exit deal.”

Blair added that no-deal should be on the ballot of any second Brexit referendum, alongside the government’s deal and Remain, but the issue should be dealt with separately to electing a government.

He said: “You can deal with them both on the same day if you want. But you should deal with them separately.”

Blair said Johnson was trying to mix-up an election and the Brexit question as the polls showed the PM was much more popular than Corbyn.

“Why don’t we just be honest about this?,” said Blair. “The reason why Boris Johnson wants an election is because he thinks he gets into an election and says to the country, ‘look, you might not like what I’m doing on Brexit but if you don’t vote for me, you’re going to get Jeremy Corbyn’. That’s what he thinks.”

Asked if Corbyn could win an election for Labour, Blair replied: “Well it’s possible isn’t it? In today’s world anything is possible. Who can predict anything about British politics?”

Blair, who won three elections as a Labour prime minister, also said there were “a vast number of problems” with Johnson’s deal and praised MPs for wanting more time to scrutinise it.

He said: “They’re studying the detail and saying, ‘the damn thing doesn’t work’.”

Blair, who was prime minister when the 1998 Good Friday Agreement was signed, also accused Johnson of bringing back a deal that was “selling out” the DUP.

He said: “His deal separates Britain and Northern Ireland. His deal locks Northern Ireland into the trading system of the European Union and the same trading system as the Republic of Ireland and it separates Britain. So 98% of the population are left with a hard Brexit while 2% get a soft Brexit.”

Explaining why he believed trade deal talks with the EU risked ending in a no-deal crash-out, Blair said:“Europe is now on notice from Britain and its ministers that Britain wants Brexit to compete around tax and regulation, to become an off-shore competitor with the European Union.

“What is absolutely clear is that Europe is not going to have that. And they’re going to say to the UK side – this is why this negotiation is going to be very ugly and very difficult – they’re going to say, ‘No we’re not giving you tariff-free access to our markets if you’re going to start using a whole lot of competitive tax and regulatory measures in order to undercut us’.”

Blair said his own opposition to Brexit had grown stronger in the years since the 2016 referendum, adding: “This is a terrible mistake and it’s not undemocratic before we do it and we take this irrevocable step of destiny that we think again about it.”


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