Tony Blair: vote Tory or Lib Dem where they are open-minded on Brexit

23 Apr

Tony Blair has advised voters to consider backing Conservative or Liberal Democrat candidates in June’s general election, if they promise to have an open mind on the terms of the final Brexit deal.

The former Labour prime minister said the public should set party allegiance aside in a effort to prevent the 8 June poll becoming what he called a “steamroller election”, and maximise the number of MPs willing to vote against hard Brexit when Theresa May brings the deal back to the House of Commons.

In an interview on the BBC’s World This Weekend, Blair also said he was so concerned about the prospect of Britain plunging out of the single market that he could even return to frontline politics, saying: “I look at the political scene at the moment and I almost feel motivated to go right back into it.”

Blair said that if Theresa May won a landslide, as the polls currently suggest, the Conservatives would read it as a mandate for “Brexit at any costs” – and voters concerned about the risks of leaving the EU should press every candidate to ask whether they had an open mind about whether the final deal was in Britain’s interests.

“The absolutely central question at this general election is less who is the prime minister on 9 June, and more what is the nature of the mandate, and in particular – because otherwise frankly this is a steamroller election – is it possible that we can return as many members of parliament as possible to parliament that are going to keep an open mind on this Brexit negotiation until we see the final terms.”

Asked if the approach he was advocating could mean voting Lib Dem in a lot of cases, he said: “What I’m advocating may mean that. It may mean voting Labour. It may mean, by the way, that they vote Tory, for candidates who are prepared to give this commitment.”

He added: “This is something that’s bigger than party allegiance, in this particular election.” He said he would campaign to ensure that candidates in every constituency were put under pressure to answer the question: “Will you back Brexit at any costs, or are you prepared to say, this deal is not in the interests of the country?”

Blair’s intervention will infuriate Labour’s campaign team, who have been trying to toe a careful line on Brexit that alienates neither anxious remainers, nor leave voters in its traditional heartland seats.

The former leader said he would vote Labour himself. But he appeared to be sailing dangerously close to Labour party rules which ban members from supporting candidates from rival political parties.

Some party members were prevented from voting in last year’s Labour leadership contest because they had previously publicly expressed support for other parties, in many cases on social media.

Clause I, section 4 of Labour’s party rulebook says: “A member of the party who joins and/ or supports a political organisation other than an official Labour group or other unit of the party, or supports any candidate who stands against an official Labour candidate, or publicly declares their intent to stand against a Labour candidate, shall automatically be ineligible to be or remain a party member.”

Blair said: “I will vote Labour, I would always vote Labour, and there are many excellent Labour candidates throughout the country. But that’s not the point for me. The point for me is, whether I’m Labour or I’m not Labour, even if there’s Conservatives or Liberal Democrats, I’ll work with anyone to get this argument across in the country.”

Blair, who has been a strident critic of Jeremy Corbyn in the past, also refused to give his backing to the Labour leader as a potential future prime minister. Asked who was best suited to the job, he said: “Because I’ve said I’m not going to get into the discussion of the campaign, I’m not even going to get into that discussion.”

But he appeared to praise May on issues aside from Brexit, saying: “You look at her and she’s very sensible, she’s a very decent person, she’s very solid, I agree with a lot she says. What she says about energy prices today, a lot of people would say, ‘yes, fair enough’.” But on Brexit, he said, “on this issue, she’s not reasonable”.

A Lib Dem spokesperson said: “Tony Blair’s intervention today shows something: this election is your chance to change Britain’s future. If you want to avoid a hard Brexit you need to support the Liberal Democrats. The Tories have chosen a divisive hard Brexit. Labour have gone along with it. Only the Liberal Democrats are fighting it.”

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