Blair condemns PM’s Brexit deal as ‘capitulation’ to EU

Tony Blair has savaged Theresa May’s Brexit deal, saying it amounted to “capitulation” to the European Union.

The former prime minister, a prominent Remain campaigner, said the plan would give the European Union a veto over divergence from Brussels’ rules.

He urged Labour MPs to reject the deal and back a second referendum, hitting out at Jeremy Corbyn’s “abject refusal” to “lead the country out of the Brexit nightmare”.

In a speech in London, Mr Blair said he had some sympathy with the Prime Minister, who was faced with “an impossible circle to square” in keeping a frictionless border with Ireland but extracting the UK from the single market and customs union.

But he said: “Nothing can disguise the nature of the deal she has chosen, if reports of it are true.

“This deal isn’t a compromise, it’s a capitulation.

“The withdrawal agreement will keep us tied to EU trade policy until there is an end established by ‘joint consent’ – in other words, the EU has a veto.

“It is coated in heavy fudge but that is the inedible biscuit beneath the coating.”

He added the proposals had united him and Boris Johnson in “unholy alliance”, saying: “We agree this is a pointless Brexit in name only which is not the best of a bad job but the worst of both worlds.

“In the cause of ‘taking back control’ we lose the control we had.”

Tony Blair said EU officials believed the UK had 'caved' in the Brexit negotiations (Victoria Jones/PA)
Tony Blair said EU officials believed the UK had 'caved' in the Brexit negotiations (Victoria Jones/PA)

A second vote to “reconsider” the issue is the only way to resolve the problem, he said.

Mr Blair added: “The only route to unity is clarity and the only route to clarity is through the people.”

The ex-premier said in his talks with European officials “they say Britain has basically caved in” and warned Brussels would seek to keep the UK in the customs union “until we let you out”.

In comments which are likely to infuriate Tory Brexiteers, Mr Blair also highlighted the PowerPoint presentation used to promote Mrs May’s Chequers plan, claiming the Prime Minister’s Europe adviser Olly Robbins and the civil service had used “elaborate camouflage” to disguise elements of the proposals.

Mr Blair said it was “gut-wrenching” Labour was not leading calls for a second referendum.

At Prime Minister’s Questions in the Commons, Mr Corbyn said the UK will be left in an “indefinite halfway house” by Mrs May’s Brexit deal.

Theresa May has spent two years negotiating a bad deal that will leave the country without a real say. #PMQspic.twitter.com/kxoEyALoWU

— Jeremy Corbyn (@jeremycorbyn) November 14, 2018

The Labour leader hit out at two years of “bungled” negotiations by the Government and described the draft agreement as a “failure in its own terms”.

A senior spokesman for the Labour leader later said the “likelihood” was the party would vote against the Prime Minister’s plan.

The spokesman said: “We’ve set out what our priorities are and from what we know of it, it doesn’t meet those priorities and it looks like a botched, half-baked deal that doesn’t deliver for the country as a whole.

“Labour has an alternative plan for Brexit which includes a new and comprehensive customs union with a British say on future trade deals, and a new single market deal with full protections and guarantees on rights and standards and protections.

“We believe that package would command support in Parliament and unite Leavers and Remainers and has majority support in the country, and that is what should be negotiated.”

Challenged over Mr Corbyn’s recent suggestion that Labour cannot stop Brexit, the spokesman said: “He said, ‘We can’t stop Brexit’. We are committed to respect the result of the referendum and that’s why we are setting out a different alternative plan for Brexit.

“Obviously, from a technical point of view, Brexit can be stopped.”