UK Politics

Brexit will make Jeremy Corbyn's job harder - Tony Blair

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Media captionBrexit will give Corbyn same problems as Tories - Blair

Tony Blair has warned Jeremy Corbyn that Brexit will make it harder for Labour to deliver its promises if it wins power.

The former prime minister said Mr Corbyn would be in "exactly the same position" as the Tories - distracted by Brexit and short of money.

Speaking to the BBC's John Pienaar, he defended his call for a second EU referendum.

Labour has backed Brexit and ruled out a second referendum if it wins power.

One member of Labour's shadow cabinet told the BBC Mr Blair's intervention was "utterly unhelpful".

"Lots of Labour voters voted for Brexit and this to them sounds like the metropolitan elite ignoring them," he said.

"The whole Tony Blair project was about being on the right side of public opinion. And now look at this. Are you telling me the Tony Blair of 1994 would have said this?"

Britain is due to leave the EU on 29 March 2019, but Mr Blair said it would be too late to change course by then.

He has repeatedly argued that people are entitled to change their mind - either through another referendum or a general election - once the terms of its departure are clear.

And he urged the current Labour leadership to adopt the same stance.

The former prime minister said he was "committed" to seeing a Labour government elected, but added a "qualification" - which was that "it's going to be extremely difficult in my view for Labour to deliver on its promises if it puts itself in exactly the same position as the Tory government's going to be on Brexit - because it will find it has less money to deal with the country's problems, that it's distracted by dealing with Brexit rather than the health service, jobs and living standards."

The UK would "face a very challenging situation" if it was leaving the EU under a Corbyn government, he added.

Mr Blair said that if people voted again for Brexit, he would not push for a third poll - "that concludes the argument", he said.

But he said that he would not support either of what he saw as the two most likely outcomes of negotiations - a Canada-style free trade deal or the UK being aligned with the EU but having no influence over key decisions.

Image caption Vote Leave supporters in Sunderland celebrate the referendum result

Shadow Brexit secretary Sir Keir Starmer says Labour will push for a deal that would preserve as many of the benefits of the single market and customs union as possible, as well as protecting workers' rights and the environment.

But Mr Blair believes this is a "confusing" strategy and is not "credible".

"Far better to fight for the right for the country to re-think, demand that we know the full details of the new relationship before we quit the old one, go to the high ground on opposing Brexit and go after the Tories for their failures to tackle the country's real challenges.

"Make Brexit the Tory Brexit. Make them own it 100%. Show people why Brexit isn't, and never was, the answer."

Mr Blair - a longstanding critic of Labour leader Jeremy Corbyn - has ditched his business interests to take a more active role in British politics through his Institute for Global Change think tank.

He has previously attacked Mr Corbyn's stance on Brexit - prompting the Labour leader to say Mr Blair should respect the result of the 2016 EU referendum.

Richard Tice, co-chairman of the pro-Brexit Leave Means Leave campaign, said Mr Blair "and his elite gang" were "still determined to stop Brexit" and will lead the UK "to the very bad deal which we had in the single market and the customs union".

'Tory divisions'

In Mr Blair's latest article published on his institute's website, he offered this advice to Jeremy Corbyn and his team: "At every PMQs nail each myth of the Brexit campaign, say why the Tory divisions are weakening our country, something only credible if we are opposed to Brexit, not advocating a different Brexit, and challenge the whole farce head on of a prime minister leading our nation in a direction which even today she can't bring herself to say she would vote for.

"If we do leave Europe, the governing mind will have been that of the Tory right.

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Image caption UKIP uses Tony Blair on its campaign leaflets

"But, if Labour continues to go along with Brexit and insists on leaving the single market, the handmaiden of Brexit will have been the timidity of Labour."

Mr Blair's comments came as his institute issued a document highlighting developments in the UK since the Brexit vote, including a downgrade in economic forecasts.

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