Blair urges Labour MPs to unite and vote down May's Brexit deal

PUBLISHED: 11:55 11 October 2018 | UPDATED: 12:01 11 October 2018

Former prime minister Tony Blair. Photo: PA / Stefan Rousseau

Former prime minister Tony Blair. Photo: PA / Stefan Rousseau

PA Wire/PA Images

Tony Blair has warned Labour MPs from Leave constituencies to hold their nerve, as the "alternatives are all worse".

The prime minister had been hoping to win over dozens of wavering Labour MPs to avoid a rebellion from her party shooting down her final Brexit deal.

But Blair says that Labour should instead unite as a party and seek to create a “blockage” at Westminster which creates the potential for a People’s Vote.

The former Labour leader was speaking outas research commissioned by his Institute for Global Change indicated the economy would suffer a major hit as a result of the service sector being outside the single market, as envisaged by May’s Chequers plan.

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Blair said the Conservatives would be “suicidal” to have a general election but suggested they may back a so-called People’s Vote.

He said May was now caught in a dilemma between a soft Brexit which would disappoint Leave supporters or a more decisive break from Brussels which would hit the economy.

In a message to Labour MPs he said: “I would advise them to hold firm against Brexit because either of these choices are unpalatable.

“If there is no way round this dilemma then you are going to come back with a deal that is going to be unpalatable for one of two reasons - either because people will say ‘what on earth is the point of having Brexit if you are still bound by the rules?’.

“On the other hand, if you come back with what is essentially a Canada-style free-trade agreement that is going to do immense damage because you are going to have to recreate and restructure your relationships.”

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He acknowledged the prospect of voting down a deal would cause even greater uncertainty and was “really difficult”.

But he added: “The alternatives are all worse because if you do get to a blockage in Parliament, that’s what opens up the possibility of going back to the people.

“There’s a huge debate about this, whether it’s right or wrong. My view is this only happens if there’s a blockage in Parliament, but if there is blockage in Parliament it’s a very simple argument.”

He said that “this referendum would be definitive, in my view”, explaining that unlike in 2016 the public and politicians would have had more than two years’ experience of grappling with the issues.

It was an “open question” what would be on the ballot paper, but abandoning Brexit altogether and remaining in the European Union should be available as a choice - and he suggested Brussels would make a “much more attractive offer” to the UK on terms for staying in.

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Mr Blair suggested Labour MPs worried about their leave-supporting voters should be saying “Brexit is not going to solve your problems” and instead offer alternative solutions.

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