Tony Blair will declare his mission to persuade the UK to stay in the EU today, calling for remain supporters to rise up in defence of what we believe.
The people voted without knowledge of the true terms of Brexit. As these terms become clear, it is their right to change their mind, he is expected to say. Our mission is to persuade them to do so.
His intervention is likely to be highly controversial at a time when Theresa May has criticised those seeking to deny the will of the people as reflected by the EU referendum vote on 23 June 2016, and when Labour’s leader, Jeremy Corbyn, has pledged not to block the triggering of Brexit.
Blair gave an interview saying Brexit could be halted if the British people decided the costs of leaving the EU greatly outweighed any benefits, as he signalled a return to political activity last November.
But in his speech hosted by Open Britain, the successor to the remain campaign, he will go further in issuing a rallying call, to those who want to remain in the EU, to fight against Brexit.
Our challenge is to expose relentlessly the actual cost, to show how this decision was based on imperfect knowledge which will now become informed knowledge, to calculate in easy to understand ways how proceeding will cause real damage to the country and its citizens, and to build support for finding a way out from the present rush over the cliff’s edge, the former Labour leader said.
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. This is not the time for retreat, indifference or despair, but the time to rise up in defence of what we believe.
Blair will say that the British people voted to leave Europe and the will of the people should prevail, but that public opinion might not always be pro-Brexit as the terms of leaving became clear.
He will also suggest May and her pro-Brexit colleagues have been abusing the mantle of patriotism to make their case for proceeding with an exit from the EU.
We do not argue for Britain in Europe because we are citizens of nowhere, he will say. We argue for it precisely because we are proud citizens of our country who believe that in the 21st century we should maintain our partnership with the biggest political union and largest commercial market right on our doorstep; not in diminution of our national interest, but in satisfaction of it.
Despite having previously described the Conservative prime minister as a very solid, sensible person he will be strongly critical of her government’s approach to Brexit as members prepare to trigger article 50 by the end of March, notifying the EU of the UK’s intention to leave.
This is a government for Brexit, of Brexit and dominated by Brexit. It is a mono-purpose political entity,” he will say. “Those driving this always wanted a hard Brexit. Indeed even the term ‘hard Brexit’ requires amendment. The policy is now Brexit at any cost.
May, who has come under pressure to guarantee the rights of EU nationals living in the UK, stressed on Thursday that Britain will remain an open and tolerant country and that French people will always be welcome, ahead of talks with French prime minister Bernard Cazeneuve. She wrote in Le Figaro newspaper that the UK would not try to cherry-pick elements of EU membership, but would be leaving altogether.
Blair’s intervention will be particularly inflammatory as many of his critics have accused him of presiding over a wave of immigration from eastern European countries without being straight with the electorate about its likely magnitude. He will directly address the issue of immigration in his speech, arguing that leaving the EU will only reduce the number of new arrivals to the UK by a fraction.
He will say: There is, in some parts of the country, a genuine concern about numbers from Europe real pressures on services and wages. But for many people, the core of the immigration question and one which I fully accept is a substantial issue is immigration from non-European countries especially when from different cultures in which assimilation and potential security threats can be an issue.
Nonetheless, we have moved in a few months from a debate about what sort of Brexit, involving a balanced consideration of all the different possibilities, to the primacy of one consideration namely controlling immigration from the EU – without any real discussion as to why and when Brexit doesn’t affect the immigration people most care about.
He will also highlight the risks of the possible breakup of the UK and a destabilising impact on the Northern Ireland peace process.
Blair’s position contrasts sharply with that of Corbyn, who took the decision to whip his MPs to vote in favour of May’s Brexit bill last week. Four shadow cabinet ministers resigned so they could be among the 47 Labour MPs to vote against Brexit.
Corbyn has made clear Labour will not block Brexit, although the party is likely to renew its attempt to secure amendments to the bill when it passes through the Lords, starting on Monday.
Open Britain has emerged as a cross-party political force since the referendum, with the purpose of campaigning against a hard, destructive Brexit.
Its key supporters in parliament include the Tory MPs Anna Soubry and Dominic Grieve, the Labour MPs Chuka Umunna and Chris Leslie, and the former Liberal Democrat leader Nick Clegg.