Former Prime Minister Tony Blair has called on the British people to “rise up” and fight against Brexit, arguing that it is not inevitable that the U.K. has to leave the European Union — despite the country voting to do just that in June last year.
In a controversial speech in London Friday, Blair criticized Prime Minister Theresa May and her government for its blinkered view on Brexit; slammed the current Labour leadership for its lack of opposition and said that the case for Scotland leaving the U.K. had been made “more credible.”
Blair dismissed accusations that it was undemocratic to discuss Brexit over six months after the public voted to leave the EU and just weeks before Article 50 is set to be triggered, saying the public did not have all the information they needed.
“They will say the will of the people can’t alter,” Blair said. “It can. They will say leaving is inevitable. It isn’t. They will say we don’t represent the people. We do, many millions of them and with determination, many millions more.”
Blair’s call for the public to “rise up in defense of what we believe” has been criticized by some who point out that more than one million people protested his decision to go to war with Iraq over a decade ago.
Tony Blair can crawl back under a rock. I remember about a million people rising up about Iraq and he ignored it
— RB (@piefan) February 17, 2017
Blair argued that Brexit would cause “pain and misery” for many, and make people less well off. “We are going to be poorer. The price of imported goods in our supermarkets is up, and thus the cost of living,” he said. “Making the best of a bad job doesn’t alter the fact that it isn’t smart to put yourself in that position.”
Blair also announced the establishment of a new institute which he said would help coordinate disparate groups across the U.K. who oppose Brexit, “to create informal links immediately and then build them into a movement with weight and reach.”
Blair had been rumored to be forming a new centrist political party, but on Friday he said he was not interested in going in that direction. The former Labour Party leader has previously said that his new organization is in reaction to “resurgent populism,” and he has drawn some support for his cause from the Liberal Democrats. Current leader Tim Farron said: “Tony Blair is right. The challenge now is to persuade people to change their mind.”
Former Liberal Democrat leader Nick Clegg, said he agreed with every word of Blair’s speech.
I agreed with every single word of that.
— Nick Clegg (@nick_clegg) February 17, 2017
However the majority of the reaction to Blair’s speech has been negative. Conservative MP Iain Duncan Smith labelled his comments “arrogant” and “out of touch,” while Foreign Secretary Boris Johnson called the speech a “bare-faced effrontery” to the British people who voted to leave the EU by a majority of 52 percent.
“So I respectfully say to Tony Blair, who urges the British people to rise up, I urge them to rise up and turn off the TV next time Blair comes on with his condescending campaign,” Johnson said.
Blair also had a go at the current Labour leadership during the speech: “The debilitation of the Labour Party is the facilitator of Brexit. I hate to say that, but it is true.” According to one report, the reaction from Jeremy Corbyn and others at Labour headquarters to this criticism was less than animated:
Labour leadership source says office response to Blair speech is "just a collective shrug"
— Jessica Elgot (@jessicaelgot) February 17, 2017