Tony Blair is urging EU leaders and Theresa May to extend Article 50 to allow for a People’s Vote to resolve the Brexit deadlock.
His call, at a People’s Vote event in London, will come 24 hours after Irish Prime Minister Leo Varadkar proposed an extension during the EU summit in Brussels.
The former prime minister, one of the leading campaigners for a People’s Vote, claims both Britain and the rest of the EU would benefit from the UK pulling back from the brink.
Mr Blair will say: “Europe should prepare for the possibility, now morphing into the near probability, that Britain will require an extension of time to the Article 50 process, either to negotiate further or more likely to conduct a new referendum.”
With Mrs May repeatedly ruling out the move at present, Mr Blair’s message is aimed directly at the leaders meeting in Brussels and he will have welcomed the proposal from Mr Varadkar.
Mr Blair claims Britain’s Brexit crisis also affects the EU and its urging the 27 leaders to make clear they still want the UK to stay in union – not only for the UK’s sake but also for theirs.
“We are now entering a new phase of Brexit,” Mr Blair will say.
“Government has lost the initiative. Parliament has taken it. We know the options for Brexit. Parliament will have to decide on one of them. If parliament can’t then it should decide to go back to the people.
“Now should be the time of preparation – parliament to make sure it can canvas the options in sensible manner, one by one, to reach agreement on an option or a referendum; Europe to ensure that if Britain is ready to think again, Europe is ready also to think again.
“All that is necessary is for leadership, in parliament if not in government, and in Europe – where despite all the myriad of challenges European leaders have, they should understand that changing Brexit would be the greatest boost to Europe’s economy and politics and that therefore, they need to focus on the part they can play and play it.”
Mr Blair, who made a speech to political journalists at Westminster last week, will say it is “bizarre” that EU leaders feel obliged to facilitate something which all of them think is a bad idea.
“Not one believes this course is better than Britain staying in Europe,” he will say.
“All of them recognise that in years to come this decision will be regretted by future generations. Yet all feel a strange compulsion to carry on.
“Things do not need to be like this. We have free will. It is past time to exercise it. Brexit is not some form of natural disaster, Brexit is man-made.”
On Brexit options being canvassed by MPs, he will say: “There has been one fixed pattern to the Brexit debate so far.
“Every potential solution has had its moment in the sun, but then things have clouded over. The Norway model is the latest to succumb.
“Over the last 30 months, it has become apparent that the 45 years of British membership of the EU has intertwined us with Europe in ways which make disentangling ourselves hideously complex.”
And attacking Mrs May’s Brexit negotiations, Mr Blair will say: “We have ended up with the ‘painful vs pointless’ Brexit dilemma, which has haunted the negotiation.
“The Irish border question is a fundamental problem and another manifestation of the same dilemma.
“A frictionless border between the north and south in Ireland is only possible if the two are part of the same trading system – i.e. the single market and customs union.
“Such a border was not a concession by the British government, but a demand. Europe said yes. Ireland naturally said yes. And rightly, Europe has said it will stand by that decision and so should we.
“But it completely undermines the other negotiating objectives of the government. This pursuit of incompatible ends through tactically inept means has led us to the present impasse. I do not believe the impasse is resolvable. Because neither pointless nor painful is attractive.”
Hitting out at Tory Euro-sceptics backing ‘no deal’, he will say: “Whatever is the proper interpretation of the mandate of June 2016, it cannot seriously be said to be no deal.
“And parliament has rightly set its face against such an outcome. Therefore, to insist that we crash out with all the disastrous implications of such a thing, rather than put the matter back to the people, would be an extraordinary dereliction of duty.
“I don’t see it happening for that reason; which is why it is completely perverse to spend time – Europe and the UK government – in preparation for no deal rather than a new vote.”
Mr Blair will also claim that polling shows opinion is changing in the UK and, in the event of a new referendum, Europe would need to decide whether to take an historic opportunity and set out a new offer to the British people.
He will add: “Such an offer would itself add justification to the case for a People’s Vote.
“But more than that it would show that the political leadership of Europe and Britain had listened to the underlying concerns of those who voted Brexit, not disrespecting the concerns but meeting them in a way which is not damaging.”