Brexit: Expert reveals ‘concern that deal is fragile’
On January 1, the post-Brexit transition period expired, meaning EU rules no longer apply in Britain. It is a new chapter for the country’s history – as for the last 48 years, EU membership had constricted Britain’s ability to make its own decisions and set policies. The journey there was not an easy one, as Brexit day was preceded by a debilitating political period that bitterly divided the nation.
The time since the Leave vote in June 2016 involved unprecedented levels of parliamentary rancour, public anger and mistrust.
Many parliamentarians and politicians tried to ignore the democratic will of the people.
Two of them were former Prime Ministers.
Tony Blair, John Major and Nick Clegg put their party allegiances aside to condemn Brexit as they tried to stop Britain’s withdrawal from the bloc more than once.
In 2018, the three were reportedly working together in a plot to stop Brexit with other European leaders.
The two former Prime Ministers and former Deputy Prime Minister met with senior politicians in Europe seeking to persuade them to stop the UK leaving the European Union.
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They had reportedly been working with other prominent Remainers including Peter Mandelson.
The mission was started by Mr Clegg independently, who then took on the role of informal co-ordinator of the group, The Guardian reported.
Mr Clegg met Mark Rutte, the former Dutch Prime Minister, and the foreign policy team of French President Emmanuel Macron.
He also met senior German politicians including Bundestag President Wolfgang Schäuble and Peter Altmeier, the German Economics Minister.
Mr Blair met senior politicians in Germany and Austria and Italy’s former Interior Minister, Matteo Salvini as well as the EU’s chief Brexit negotiator Michel Barnier.
Both said they wanted to find a way to extend Article 50, so that a deal could have been struck to remain in the EU.
Mr Clegg said: “The aim of the visits is to persuade EU leaders that British politics has made the option of remaining inside the EU viable.
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“It is a question of pressing them to keep open the extension of the Article 50 process beyond the March deadline to give UK negotiators more time including to prepare legislation on a people’s vote.
“We cannot just turn the clock back to just before the 2016 referendum.
“There would have to be some changes of freedom of movement – we cannot just put Humpty Dumpty back together again.”
Mr Blair, who met Mr Barnier in July 2018, said the main focus of his meetings was to discuss a new common approach to immigration in the UK and EU.
He said: “You cannot deal with this Brexit issue unless you deal with the questions of immigration and the anxieties that gave rise to it.”
Despite their efforts, former Prime Minister Theresa May triggered Article 50 on March 29, 2018.
One year later, though, sources in Paris confirmed Mr Blair had been speaking again to Mr Macron about keeping Britain in the EU.
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The former Prime Minister reportedly believed that if the bloc stood its ground over the Brexit deal, Parliament would have caved in and accepted a customs union – which would have kept Britain yoked to Brussels or triggered a second referendum that could have cancelled Brexit altogether.
The Sunday Times quoted a Conservative source saying of Mr Blair’s dealings with Mr Macron: “He’s saying, ‘You’ve got to hold firm and then we’ll end up staying’.”
Sources in Paris said Mr Blair had been “lobbying” the French President, but drew a distinction between lobbying and briefing.
They declined to comment on Mr Macron’s response to the approach from Mr Blair.
A spokesman for Mr Blair said: “We don’t comment on private meetings.”
“Thankfully, I don’t think it will have any effect other than to damage his legacy.”
Mr Blair was an outspoken advocate of a second referendum, and told European leaders an additional vote was “probable”.
Mr Blair told Euronews in 2019: “I don’t disclose the people I speak to because that should remain private between me and the leaders I talk to.
“But I think it’s very obvious…I need to get the European leaders to the next stage which is to realise that the probability is it’s going to happen and they’ve got to prepare for it.”
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Conservative MP Peter Bone said at the time: “It is totally unacceptable for a former Prime Minister to go around the heads of European countries and undermine the Government’s position.
“I’m not sure we could find another time in modern history when this has happened.
“Tony Blair has to realise he has had his time as Prime Minister and I’m surprised and disappointed he has done this.
“I doubt he would have liked it if his predecessors had done this to him.
On the other hand, Sir John did everything he could to damage Prime Minister Boris Johnson’s premiership.
In September, 2019, he challenged the former London Mayor ’s decision to suspend Parliament at the Supreme Court and during the general election campaign, he urged young voters to stop the Conservatives’ Brexit plan.
His call came in a video message for a Final Say campaign rally, which was held in London under the banner “Stop The Brexit Landslide”
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