British ex-PM Tony Blair: 'You've got a Brexit that's pointless, and one that's painful. The choice is not a good one.'

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22.01.2019

Former British PM Blair says: Brexit process is 'a mess'

Speaking with DW in Davos, former British Prime Minister Tony Blair has called a new vote "the sensible thing in this situation." He said a "no-deal Brexit would be catastrophic for everyone."

Speaking with DW at the World Economic Forum in Davos, Switzerland, former British Prime Minister Tony Blair again made the case for holding a second referendum on Brexit. Blair said of the current parliamentary impasse, "The process is a mess," adding, "The sensible thing in this situation is to go back to the people."

Politics | 22.01.2019

Read more: Brexit: What Europe wants

Asked how he thought a second Brexit referendum would change the situation, Blair said, "It would change it because it would give us a conclusive result."

He brushed aside criticism that a second vote would "damage democracy" by saying: "We're going back to the people, we're not asking anyone else, we're asking them. We've had 30 months of negotiation, there's a much clearer knowledge now of what Brexit really means. There's a much greater understanding of all the issues around it."

Asked what kind of Brexit he thought might eventually come about, Blair said, "Obviously a no-deal Brexit would be catastrophic for everyone."

Brexit timeline: Charting Britain's turbulent exodus from Europe

June 2016: 'The will of the British people'

After a shrill referendum campaign, nearly 52 percent of British voters opted to leave the EU on June 24. Polls had shown a close race before the vote with a slight lead for those favoring remaining in the EU. Conservative British Prime Minister David Cameron, who had campaigned for Britain to stay, acknowledged the 'will of the British people' and resigned the following morning.

Brexit timeline: Charting Britain's turbulent exodus from Europe

July 2016: 'Brexit means Brexit'

Former Home Secretary Theresa May replaced David Cameron as prime minister on July 11 and promised the country that "Brexit means Brexit." May had quietly supported the remain campaign before the referendum. She did not initially say when her government would trigger Article 50 of the EU treaty to start the two-year talks leading to Britain's formal exit.

Brexit timeline: Charting Britain's turbulent exodus from Europe

March 2017: 'We already miss you'

May eventually signed a diplomatic letter over six months later on March 29, 2017 to trigger Article 50. Hours later, Britain's ambassador to the EU, Tim Barrow, handed the note to European Council President Donald Tusk. Britain's exit was officially set for March 29, 2019. Tusk ended his brief statement on the decision with: "We already miss you. Thank you and goodbye."

Brexit timeline: Charting Britain's turbulent exodus from Europe

June 2017: And they're off!

British Brexit Secretary David Davis and the EU's chief negotiator, Michel Barnier, kicked off talks in Brussels on June 19. The first round ended with Britain reluctantly agreeing to follow the EU's timeline for the rest of the negotiations. The timeline split talks into two phases. The first settles the terms of Britain's exit and the second the terms of the EU-UK relationship post-Brexit.

Brexit timeline: Charting Britain's turbulent exodus from Europe

July-October 2017: Money, rights, and Ireland

The second round of talks in mid-July began with an unflattering photo of a seemingly unprepared British team. It and subsequent rounds ended with little progress on three phase one issues: How much Britain still needed to pay into the EU budget after it leaves, the post-Brexit rights of EU and British citizens, and whether Britain could keep an open border between Ireland and Northern Ireland.

Brexit timeline: Charting Britain's turbulent exodus from Europe

November 2017: May pays out?

Progress appeared to have been made after round six in early November with Britain reportedly agreeing to pay up to £50 billion (€57 billion/$68 billion) for the "divorce bill." May had earlier said she was only willing to pay €20 billion, while the EU had calculated some €60 billion euros. Reports of Britain's concession sparked outrage among pro-Brexit politicians and media outlets.

Brexit timeline: Charting Britain's turbulent exodus from Europe

December 2017: Go-ahead for phase two

Leaders of the remaining 27 EU members formally agreed that "sufficient progress" had been made to move on to phase 2 issues: the post-Brexit transition period and the future UK-EU trading relationship. While May expressed her delight at the decision, European Council President Tusk ominously warned that the second stage of talks would be "dramatically difficult."

Brexit timeline: Charting Britain's turbulent exodus from Europe

July 2018: Boris and David resign

British ministers appeared to back a Brexit plan at May's Chequers residence on July 6. The proposal would have kept Britain in a "combined customs territory" with the EU and signed up to a "common rulebook" on all goods. That went too far for British Foreign Minister Boris Johnson and Brexit Secretary Davis. They resigned a few days later. May replaced them with Jeremy Hunt and Dominic Raab.

Brexit timeline: Charting Britain's turbulent exodus from Europe

September 2018: No cherries for Britain

The Chequers proposal did not go down well either with EU leaders, who told her at a summit in Salzburg in late September that it was unacceptable. EU Council President Tusk trolled May on Instagram, where he captioned a picture of himself and May looking at cakes with the line: "A piece of cake perhaps? Sorry, no cherries." The gag echoed previous EU accusations of British cherry-picking.

Brexit timeline: Charting Britain's turbulent exodus from Europe

November 2018: Breakthrough in Brussels

EU leaders endorsed a 585-page draft divorce deal and political declaration on post-Brexit ties in late November. The draft was widely condemned by pro- and anti-Brexit lawmakers in the British Parliament only weeks earlier. Brexit Secretary Dominic Raab resigned along with several other ministers, and dozens of Conservative Party members tried to trigger a no-confidence vote in May.

Brexit timeline: Charting Britain's turbulent exodus from Europe

December 2018: May survives rebellion

In the face of unrelenting opposition, May postponed a parliamentary vote on the deal on December 10. The next day, she met with German Chancellor Angela Merkel to seek reassurances that would, she hoped, be enough to convince skeptical lawmakers to back the deal. But while she was away, hard-line Conservative lawmakers triggered a no-confidence vote. May won the vote a day later.

Brexit timeline: Charting Britain's turbulent exodus from Europe

January 2019: Agreement voted down

UK parliament 432 to 202 against May's Brexit deal in a parliamentary vote on January 16. In response to the result, European Council President Donald Tusk suggested the only solution was for the UK to stay in the EU. Meanwhile, Britain's Labour Party called for a vote of no confidence in May, her second leadership challenge in as many months.

'A Brexit that's pointless, and one that's painful'

Speaking of the two versions of Brexit currently being discussed, Blair was critical of both. He pointed out that if the UK remains in the EU customs union or single market — for instance with the so-called Norway model — it will have to abide by the EU's rules, yet would not have any say over them. He said that the third-country trading status sought by Brexit advocates would "disrupt British business that for four-and-a-half decades has been doing business, creating relationships, trading, investing on the basis that we're part of the European trading system."

Blair said of the two: "So you've got a Brexit that's pointless, and one that's painful. The choice is not a good one."

Addressing the current draft Withdrawal Agreement with the EU, voted down overwhelmingly last week in the House of Commons, Blair said, "The trouble with the deal Mrs. May's putting forward, is that it's completely ambiguous. I think it's not wise, either for Europe or for Britain, to leave without knowing what the future is."

Blair cited immigration and fears of economic exclusion as a result of globalization as the major underlying problems that led to Brexit in the first place: "You have to deal with the underlying issues. The trouble is that Brexit itself is not really an answer to any of these issues. So this is the dilemma that Britain's in, and we've got to find our way out of it."

'This is about Europe, too'

The former prime minister, with whom all of his colleagues in that elite club, both liberal and conservative, agree — with the exception of David Cameron, whose political career ended ignominiously after he lost the Brexit referendum in an effort to appease hardliners in his Conservative party — said that he would like to implore upon listeners, "This is about Europe, too."

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