Blair: Pro-EU Britons should 'rise up' against Brexit

The former prime minister called upon Remainers to urge those who voted for Brexit to change their minds. Credit: Victoria Jones/PA
  • Video report by ITV News Deputy Political Editor Chris Ship

Tony Blair has told pro-EU Britons it is their "mission" to "rise up" and persuade Brexit voters to change their mind about leaving the European Union.

In a speech made to the pro-European campaign group Open Britain, the former prime minister said the British people voted without the knowledge of "the true terms of Brexit" and so therefore should be given another vote.

The ex-PM's comments were quick to draw criticism.

A Labour source said "no wonder we are still trying to recover from Tony Blair's legacy when he has such contempt for democracy", while Secretary of State for Foreign Affairs Boris Johnson added it was "insulting the intelligence of the electorate to say they got it wrong."

Mr Johnson even urged the public "to rise up and turn off the TV next time Blair comes on with his condescending campaign."

During his speech Mr Blair had argued that Brexit will cause "real damage" to Britain now and for future generations and questioned if the referendum really provides a "mandate for Brexit at any cost".

ITV News Deputy Political Editor Chris Ship was listening to the speech:

In June last year the UK voted to leave the European Union after 43 years in an historic referendum. Leave won by 52% to 48%.

Earlier this month MPs voted for the Brexit bill, allowing Theresa May to begin the process of the UK leaving the EU.

Mr Blair said in his speech to Open Britain members that the referendum vote was "based on imperfect knowledge".

The UK prime minister from 1997 to 2007, said: "The people voted without knowledge of the terms of Brexit. As these terms become clear, it is their right to change their mind.

"Our mission is to persuade them to do so."

Mr Blair also recognised the tough position that Prime Minister Theresa May was currently in during his speech but said she was leading a "mono-purpose" Government "for Brexit, of Brexit and dominated by Brexit".

Claiming that those in power who voted for Brexit have "always wanted a hard Brexit" and that the "policy is now Brexit at any cost" he then called upon pro-EU Britons to expose the "actual cost" of leaving the EU.

"I don't know if we can succeed. But I do know we will suffer a rancorous verdict from future generations if we do not try", he said.

He added: "This is a great country, with resilient and creative people. And yes, no one is going to write us off - why should they? But making the best of a bad job doesn't alter the fact that it isn't smart to put yourself in that position unless you have to."

Meanwhile ITV News spoke to members of the public in his former Sedgefield constituency who described Mr Blair as an "idiot" and a "fraud" who should just accept the referendum result.

Further fuelling the argument for a rethink of the Brexit vote Mr Blair also suggested that the case for Scottish independence was "much more credible" if the UK left the EU, warning that the break-up of the UK is now "back on the table".

Scottish First Minister Nicola Sturgeon has already said another independence referendum was "almost inevitable" in the event of a hard Brexit based on the argument that a majority in Scotland voted to Remain.

British Prime Minister Theresa May has pledged to invoke Article 50 by the end of March 2017 - formally beginning the Brexit process.