Tony Blair has admitted that Brexit will not be overturned for at least a generation but insisted Britain needs to “fix” its trading relationship with Europe.
The former Prime Minister, a leading advocate of a second referendumconceded that the argument over the decision to leave the EU was now settled.
“However passionately I opposed Brexit, I understand we’ve done it,” Sir Tony told a conference in central London organized by his think tank.
“We’ve done it legally, we’ve done it politically and it’s not going to be reversed any time soon – let’s say any time in this generation.
“But you’ve still got to fix the problems. This stuff in Northern Ireland is doing us damage. The fact you’ve got labor shortages is doing us damage. The fact we’ve got exports down and the pound devalued and business investment down is doing us damage. You’ve got to fix it. ”
Sir Tony was a leading light in the People’s Vote campaign and spent three years fighting to overturn the result of the 2016 referendum.
When the Brexit trade deal was agreed in October 2019, he said MPs should extend Britain’s membership of the bloc and hold another vote on staying in.
But last year he dropped his calls for a re-run, saying that although he had not changed his mind about leaving “we must make the best of it”.
David Jones, a former Brexit minister, told The Telegraph the latest remarks represented a dose of “refreshing realism from the arch-Remainer Tony Blair”, adding: “He recognizes the simple truth that the people delivered their verdict on the EU in 2016 and that there is no point looking back. ”
During his speech Sir Tony admitted that “there may be many people who despise and hate the [political] center ”and that it faces a“ big struggle ”to get back into power.
He warned Sir Keir Starmer, the Labor leaderthat his only route to Number 10 was a moderate agenda that does not alienate Liberal Democrat voters and said those who abandoned the Tories in recent by-elections such as Tiverton and Honiton must be “comfortable with the prospect of a Labor government”.
“If you want any form, even of passive electoral tactical voting to work, the party that is going to be dominating the government has got to be electable in its own right,” he said.
“For Labor, the big challenge is… people have got to think the other lot deserves to be put out and these guys are a safe alternative.”
But he dismissed calls for a non-aggression pact between Labor and the Lib Dems amid claims an informal deal was struck for the recent by-elections.
In a veiled criticism of the current Labor leadershipSir Tony suggested the party would only win the next election if it had “a policy agenda that’s absolutely clear”.
He also had an apparent dig at Labor MPs, including five members of the front bench, who defied orders to join picket lines at the rail strikes last week.
“There are two types of politicians. There are the ones out on the street with the placard and there are the ones sitting in the office making decisions and governing, ”he said.