Tony Blair calls on Starmer to overcome Tory-induced fear of Brexit

Labour needs to 'acknowledge a problem needs fixing' says Blair

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Former Labour Prime Minister Tony Blair has urged Sir Keir Starmer to take a grip and take on the issue of Brexit instead of beating about the bush. The Labour leader performed a major U-turn on freedom of movement, saying it would be a “red line” for his party if it gets into power – despite supporting the policy just three years ago. However, Mr Blair argued the country is prepared for a new Brexit deal as Britons realise that problems with the European Union keep cropping up.

Tony Blair told The News Agents podcast: “There’s nervousness in the Labour Party that they will be painted as wanting to reverse Brexit. 

“And you know, you can see from the Tory reaction to my report that it’s a perfectly legitimate anxiety. 

“The thing I think is important though is to realise that the country is ready for a sensible and pragmatic way through.

“One of the extraordinary things today about Britain is we actually lack a pro-business party unless Labour steps into that role.”

Asked if the Labour leader needs to be less nervous, Mr Blair said: “I happen to believe that Keir on the whole has done a really good job with Labour. 

 “But I think in an curious way, you’re almost in an unspoken negotiation with the British people at the moment over Brexit, because no one wants to go badly to the division of the Brexit referendum and its aftermath. 

“On the other hand, I do believe people think there’s a problem, and it needs fixing.

“I think we can afford as a Labour Party to move to the next stage, which is to say, ‘There is a problem, here are practical ways of fixing it that don’t disturb the overall Brexit settlement’. 

Mr Blair added: “But just recognise that in today’s world, you’ve got to have a relationship with the continent of which you are a part. 

“You can change your political and legal relationship with Europe, but you can’t change the geography or your values or your interests.”

Despite growing discontent among businesses over Brexit red tape, Keir Starmer has also ruled out a Swiss-style deal with EU, which would allow access to the EU’s Single Market but require more generous immigration rules, after reports Rishi Sunak’s Government was considering such an arrangement prompted frantic denials from Downing Street. 

He told the Mail on Sunday: “A Swiss deal simply wouldn’t work for Britain. We’ll have a stronger trading relationship and we’ll reduce red tape for British business – but freedom of movement is a red line for me. It was part of the deal of being in the EU but since we left I’ve been clear it won’t come back under my government.”

He added: “Ripping up the Brexit deal would lead to years more wrangling and arguing, when we should be facing the future.”

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His statement contrasted with the wish of the British people who now think Britain was wrong to leave the European Union by 56 percent to 32 percent, according to YouGov. Public opinion shifted in the months after post-Brexit trade rules came into force in January 2021, with 36 percent of British adults now saying Brexit has gone very badly. 

Rishi Sunak has also ruled out a Swiss-style deal with the EU, while his Chancellor Jeremy Hunt did cite the Swiss border as a model for future UK arrangements with the bloc in terms of using technology to make trade easier.

The Chancellor said: “If you are saying, do I believe that we could remove the physical barriers to trade in the way that happens on the Franco-Swiss border, the Norway-Sweden border, in a way that is relevant for the Northern Ireland protocol issues on the island of Ireland, that’s been my public position for some time.”

The Office for Budget Responsibility (OBR) forecasts that Brexit in its current form will reduce productivity and Britain’s GDP by 4 percent in the long run.

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