Tony Blair has launched a savage attack on Jeremy Corbyn for failing to oppose Brexit and has urged MPs to ‘thwart’ Tory plans to deny a fresh vote on the final deal.
The former Prime Minister rounded on the Labour leader for his ‘covert’ backing the UK’s exit from the EU and said the Commons had a duty to prevent a hard Brexit.
In his strongest words yet on Corbyn’s stance on the issue, Blair said “we cannot rely on the Opposition” to act in the national interest in giving the public a say over Theresa May’s plans.
And he warned that the backlash from Leave voters would be fierce if they ended up with more unrestrained “free market globalisation”, not less.
Speaking in Parliament for the first time since he quit as premier in 2007, Blair delivered an address at Speaker’s House as part of a lecture series on Brexit.
“We cannot rely on the Government. It has been plain for a long time that their primary interest, given the divisions, is to keep the façade of unity,” he said.
“Unfortunately, we cannot rely on the Opposition because its leadership believes, whether for reasons of opportunism or covert opposition to the EU, that they must commit to doing Brexit but pretend that they would secure a better Brexit deal.”
Blair’s remarks came just days after Corbyn sacked Shadow Northern Ireland Secretary Owen Smith for urging a fresh vote on the eventual deal hammered out with Brussels.
He said it was precisely because Labour’s leadership couldn’t be relied on to oppose Brexit that the decision should be handed instead to the public.
In an apparent plea to his party and to the Tory rebels to rise up against their whips, he said that they had now to insist that Parliament ensured a fresh say over the deal.
“This is a moment when every MP is a Leader. This is a decision like no other. It requires each Member to sit the test of leadership. Passing doesn’t mean voting this way or that. It means voting according to conviction and not according to the whip.”
The former PM said that May’s plans to present a take-it-or-leave-it deal to Westminster was a “strategy that Parliament has a duty to foil”.
“Exposing the strategy of fudge and preventing it, should be the overriding aim of the Labour Party in Parliament. I understand, though don’t agree, with its decision to go along with Brexit.
“But it is the duty of Opposition MPs to thwart a strategy designed to place the country in a position where it puts beyond reach of reconsideration a decision of this fundamental importance whose full consequences we do not know. Failure to stand against the fudge would be unforgivable.”
The former premier started 2018 with a major speech in January declaring that Labour could ‘annihilate’ the Tories at the next election if they stood up to Brexit.
But he appeared unimpressed by Shadow Brexit Secretary Keir Starmer’s new bid to ensure ministers can’t impose a ‘no deal’ Brexit on Parliament.
Speaking on Monday night, Blair warned that a hard Brexit would end with a race-to-the-bottom economy that Leave voters wanted to escape.
“People say that there will be disillusion if Brexit doesn’t happen. Personally, I doubt this if it is the result of a fresh ‘say’ on the final deal,” he said.
“But even if true, the bigger disillusion will be when those who voted for Brexit because they feared the future shaped by free market globalisation, realise they are now conscripts in an adventure to embrace it more fully.”
He also appealed to Tory ‘Remain’ MPs, declaring they were deluded if they thought Brexit “is the best inoculation against a Corbyn Government”.
“Brexit is not the route to escaping a Corbyn Government; it is the gateway to having one,” he added.