Britain's May clashes with Blair over Brexit

Theresa May leaves after a news conference following a European Union leaders summit in Brussels, Belgium December 14 2018. (Eric Vidal/Reuters)

Theresa May leaves after a news conference following a European Union leaders summit in Brussels, Belgium December 14 2018. (Eric Vidal/Reuters)

An extraordinary public row broke out Sunday between British Prime Minister Theresa May and former Labour party leader Tony Blair over her Brexit deal.

May accused Blair of insulting voters and trying to undermine her government with calls for a second referendum to break the political deadlock over the divorce deal she struck with the EU.

“For Tony Blair to go to Brussels and seek to undermine our negotiations by advocating for a second referendum is an insult to the office he once held and the people he once served,” May said in a statement issued late Saturday.

“We cannot, as he would, abdicate responsibility for this decision. Parliament has a democratic duty to deliver what the British people voted for.”

Blair, who was Labour prime minister between 1997 and 2007, on Sunday accused the Conservative leader of being “irresponsible”.

“The sensible thing is now to allow parliament to vote on each of the forms of Brexit canvassed, including the prime minister’s deal,” he said in a statement.

“If they can’t reach agreement then the logical thing is to go back to the people.”

He added: “What is irresponsible however is to try to steamroller MPs into accepting a deal they genuinely think is a bad one with the threat that if they do not fall into line, the government will have the country crash out (of the EU) without a deal.”

Blair opposes Brexit and, as May’s deal faces opposition on all sides of the House of Commons, he has stepped up calls for the public to vote again.

His latest speech on the issue came on Friday, as May was meeting EU leaders in Brussels to discuss how to save the agreement.

May has repeatedly ruled out holding a new referendum, saying the result in 2016 was clear.

But growing numbers of MPs believe a “people’s vote” is the only way to break an impasse that risks Britain leaving the EU on March 29 without any agreement at all.

May’s chief of staff, Gavin Barwell, was on Sunday forced to deny reports that he was planning for such an outcome.

The same reports also said May’s effective deputy, David Lidington, was in talks with opposition Labour MPs about a new vote.

Lidington replied that he always listened to MPs’ views but pointed to recent remarks in parliament where he said a second referendum may not be decisive and could damage confidence in democracy.

Separately, Foreign Minister Jeremy Hunt suggested Britain could thrive if it left the EU with no deal, and admitted he would like to “have a crack” at May’s job.

“But I think the first thing is to get us through this challenging next few months and I passionately believe Theresa May is the person to do that,” he told the Sunday Telegraph.

© Agence France-Presse

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