Blair Says U.K. Should Keep Open the Option of Staying in EU (1)

Jul 15, 2017 5:22 am ET

(Bloomberg) -- Former Prime Minister Tony Blair said Britain should keep open the option of staying in the European Union so Brexit can be called off if the mood of voters changes during the two-year negotiation period.

The damage to the economy and livelihoods caused by a break from the 28-nation bloc is becoming clearer as divorce proceedings continue, and a compromise with the EU shouldn’t be ruled out, Blair said on Saturday in an essay emailed by his office.

“Rational consideration of the options would sensibly include the option of negotiating for Britain to stay within a Europe itself prepared to reform and meet us halfway,” Blair, who was prime minister from 1997 to 2007, wrote. “Given what is at stake, and what, daily, we are discovering about the costs of Brexit, how can it be right deliberately to take off the table the option of compromise between Britain and Europe so that Britain stays?”

The essay reiterates the former premier’s push to change the path of the country, which he said “has lost its footing and is stumbling; but seemingly with no choice but to stagger on.” Shortly after last year’s referendum, Blair said Britain should keep its options open because the will of the people could change over time. And in February, he called on opponents of Brexit to “rise up” and fight to change the British people’s minds on the issue.

“I think it’s possible now that Brexit doesn’t happen,” Blair said on “Sophy Ridge on Sunday” to be broadcast by Sky News, the network tweeted. “I think it’s absolutely necessary that it doesn’t happen because I think every day is bringing us fresh evidence that it’s doing us damage.”

Criticizing Corbyn

The “economic damage” of leaving the EU can only be limited by remaining in the bloc’s single market and customs union, which account for 50 percent of British exports, Blair wrote on Saturday. But that would be politically difficult as the U.K. would have to abide by the rules without having a say over them and people would question if there was any point in leaving, he said.

He also criticized Jeremy Corbyn, who became leader of the Labour Party eight years after Blair relinquished control, for offering a “jobs first” break from the EU without the mechanism to deliver it. He said Labour should end its “ambiguity” on Brexit and do more to differentiate its position from that of Prime Minister Theresa May’s Conservative government.

“A ‘Jobs First’ Brexit outside the single market is a contradiction in terms,” Blair wrote. “When people blithely say ‘we will get roughly the same terms as we do now with the single market,’ I literally know no one in the European system who believes this.”

(Updates with Sky News comments in fifth paragraph.)

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