Blair: I have sympathy for rebels but I'm staying in Labour
PUBLISHED: 11:06 03 March 2019 | UPDATED: 11:06 03 March 2019
Tony Blair has said he has "sympathy" for the MPs who established the Independent Group but insisted he will stay in the Labour Party.
The former prime minister said he did not speak to the MPs about breaking away but told BBC One’s Andrew Marr Show: “I’m in touch with them and I have spoken to some of them.
“I’ve got a great deal of sympathy with what they’re doing and what they’re saying.”
He added: “I’m staying in the Labour Party. I’ve been in the Labour Party for over 40 years, I led it for 13 years, I was the longest-serving Labour prime minister, I’m deeply attached to the Labour Party.
“But do I sympathise with what they have done? Yes, I do. I think they’re courageous in having done it.”
He added: “I think it’s absolutely inevitable that if you put the choice before the country - hard Brexit Tory party, hard-left Labour Party - it doesn’t matter what I say, what I want to happen, what anyone else says, you leave that amount of fertile territory open, someone is going to cultivate it.”
Blair said he was “deeply concerned” about Labour’s direction and policy, adding: “If you want to get back to winning ways, this is not the position to be in.”
He said he believed Labour deputy leader Tom Watson had “shown really great leadership” in recent weeks when asked about the move to set up a social democratic group within the party.
He added: “As a result of what he’s doing, he’s encouraging people who do share a perspective of the Labour Party as a governing, modern, progressive party, he’s actually encouraging them in a sense to stay because he’s providing a space within which people can debate and argue.”
In a message to Labour MPs on Brexit, he said: “Vote against the deal, use an extension to come to a conclusion - hard versus soft or back to the people.
“I think you’ll get to another referendum when people understand that a hard Brexit is going to be deeply economically painful for the country and a soft Brexit means we just become a rule-taker.
“It’s in those circumstances that I think you mobilise a majority in Parliament to say the sensible thing in these circumstances is to put it back to the people, or pass her deal subject to a confirmatory referendum.”