Brexit must be stopped to halt harm to UK, says Blair

Britain’s former Prime Minister Tony Blair attends a meeting of the European People’s Party in Wicklow, Ireland, in this May 12, 2017 file photo. — Reuters

LONDON — There’s a chance Britain won’t leave the European Union, former Prime Minister Tony Blair said on Saturday, arguing that stopping Brexit is “necessary” to avoid severe economic damage.

In an article published by Blair’s Institute for Global Change, he wrote that EU leaders might be willing to “reform and meet us half way” to keep the UK in the bloc. He said that might include compromise on freedom of movement — a key EU principle that conflicts with Britain’s goal of placing limits on immigration.

Blair said conditions in Britain and Europe had changed since the UK’s EU membership referendum in June 2016. Europe has some new leaders, including France’s centrist President Emmanuel Macron. And in Britain, the Conservative government suffered a setback in last month’s election.

Blair also told Sky News that “every day is bringing us fresh evidence” of Brexit’s harm to Britain, with economic growth slowing and the value of the pound down sharply since the June 2016 EU membership referendum.

“This is causing us real damage. That’s beyond doubt,” he said. “I think it’s absolutely necessary that it doesn’t happen.”

In an interview to the BBC, Blair said that some EU leaders may be prepared to compromise on the free movement of people to help Britain stay in the single market, Tony Blair has said.

He told the Today program one option was for Britain “staying within a reformed EU”.

The ex-PM said he would not disclose conversations he had had in Europe — but insisted he was not speaking “on a whim”.

The government insists Brexit will give the UK greater control of its borders.

Blair spoke to the BBC after he argued in an article for his own institute that there was room for compromise on free movement of people.

He told the BBC the situation in Europe was different to when Britain voted to leave the EU — a move Blair described as “the most serious it’s taken since the Second World War”.

He said “majorities” of people in France, Germany and the UK supported changes around benefits and with regards to those who come to Europe without a job.

“I’m not saying these could be negotiated,” Blair said.

“I’m simply saying if we were looking at this from the point of view of the interests of the country, one option within this negotiation would be Britain staying within a reformed European Union.”

He said the majority of EU migrants in the UK are “people we want in this country”.

EU leaders have previously said the UK must accept free movement of people if it wants to stay inside the single market.

But in his article for the Institute for Global Change, Blair said senior figures had told him they were willing to consider changes to one of the key principles of membership of the single market.

“The French and Germans share some of the British worries, notably around immigration, and would compromise on freedom of movement,” he wrote. — Agencies