We might all change our minds, so let’s keep Brexit options open says Tony Blair

Tony Blair
Tony Blair
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BRITAIN should keep its “options open” over leaving the European Union because the “will of the people” could change, Tony Blair has said.

The Government should delay triggering Article 50, the two-year process for formally quitting the bloc, “for as long as it takes to get an idea of how the other side looks”, according to the former prime minister.

A downturn in economic fortunes could lead to a change in attitudes about the country’s future outside the EU, he suggested.

Mr Blair told Murnaghan on Sky News: “One of the reasons why we should keep our options open is that yes, the referendum expressed the will of the people, but the will of the people is entitled to change.

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“Right now, over the next two months, even while this psycho drama within the Conservative party is going on, we’ve got to have the national interest protected by trying to set the scene for any negotiation.”

He added: “I don’t think you can override the settled will of the people but it’s 52 to 48. Supposing some weeks or months down the line, as it becomes clear what we are moving to, as that becomes clear, if it becomes clear these terms are bad for us, if people start to worry about their jobs, we should just keep our options open.

“I’m not saying we should have another referendum, I’m not saying you can revisit this. I’m simply saying there’s no rule about this - we’re a sovereign people we can do what we want to do.”

Tory leadership frontrunner Theresa May, meanwhile, has suggested there could be further rises in the number of EU citizens moving to the UK before Brexit is implemented.

The Home Secretary told ITV’s Peston on Sunday: “We know, for example, if we’re looking ahead over the coming months and years once we get the issue of the EU negotiation sorted, the right deal for Britain, we may very well see in the run-up to that, people wanting to come here to the UK before that exit happens, so there are factors you can’t always predict what the timing and numbers of those will be.”

The next prime minister will face intense pressure to curb immigration as the UK severs its ties with Brussels.

EU leaders have warned they will not compromise on freedom of movement if the country wants continued access to the single market.

Mr Blair said concerns about immigration are “real” but insisted the answer was not to quit the EU.

He told BBC Radio 4’s The World This Weekend: “One of the things we should be looking at in these next months are other ways of dealing with that that don’t mean we have literally to eject ourselves from the entirety of the European Union for that.

“Even if you apply an Australian points system to European migration you are still going to get European migrants.”

The Prime Minister should be holding talks with the leaders of the 27 other members of the bloc over the next few months to find out “what is the room for manoeuvre” on a range of issues in the Brexit negotiations.

Candidates vying to replace David Cameron have been urged to guarantee that the three million EU nationals already living here are not deported when Britain quits the bloc.

Campaigners from both sides - including Brexit backers Daniel Hannan, a Conservative MEP, Labour’s Gisela Stuart and Ukip’s Douglas Carswell as well as Remain supporters Yvette Cooper, a Labour former frontbencher, and TUC general secretary Frances O’Grady - have also called for contenders to pledge to fight for a similar deal for UK citizens living in the other 27 EU countries.

Mrs May refused to set a date on when to bring net immigration levels down to tens of thousands, in line with Tory Party targets.

“There’s still a job to be done from people outside the EU,” she said.

“There’s also, of course, the future negotiation in relation to free movement for people coming from inside the EU. I’m very clear the Brexit vote gave us a very clear message from people that we couldn’t allow free movement to continue as it had hitherto.

“We need to bring control into movement of people coming into the UK from the EU. So we’ve got to move ahead looking across immigration dealing with both those sides of types of immigration.

“But still I believe we should have that goal of bringing immigration down to sustainable levels.”

Mrs May added: “What I’ve also discovered over the last six years is that this is somewhere where you’re constantly having to work at it, so you can’t just set a time period.”

The Cabinet minister said she wanted to “guarantee the position” for EU citizens currently living in the UK and British citizens living in EU countries.

She added: “What’s important is there will be a negotiation here as to how we deal with that issue of people who are already here and who have established life here and Brits who have established a life in other countries within the European Union.

“The position at the moment is as it has been, there’s no change at the moment, but of course we have to factor that into negotiations.”