Europe Tony Blair warns of ‘chaos’ if UK leaves EU

Tony Blair warns of ‘chaos’ if UK leaves EU

Tony Blair
Former British PM Tony Blair

(AA) — Former British PM Tony Blair warned Tuesday of the “most intense period of business anxiety, reconsideration of options and instability since the war” that would ensue if a Conservative Party victory in the U.K. election leads to a referendum on Britain’s EU membership.

Speaking in his old parliamentary constituency of Sedgefield, northeast England, the former leader of the center-left Labour Party said, “The Tory (Conservative) campaign talks of chaos should Labour win. Think of the chaos produced by the possibility, never mind the reality, of Britain quitting Europe… a pall of unpredictability hanging over the British economy.”

Tony Blair is Labour’s most successful party leader, having won three consecutive elections in 1997, 2001 and 2005. He stepped down in 2007, four years after his legacy was poisoned by the controversial 2003 Iraq invasion.

“I believe passionately that leaving Europe would leave Britain diminished in the world, do significant damage to our economy and… would go against the very qualities that mark us out still as a great global nation,” he said.

Blair described the prospect of an EU referendum as a “huge distraction for the country” which would take precedence “over the NHS, education, law and order, the lot.”

He praised current Labour Party leader Ed Miliband for facing down “calls from the media and many inside our party to follow the Tory concession. In doing so, he showed real leadership. He showed that he would put the interests of the country first. He showed that on this, as on other issues, he is his own man.”

In a scathing criticism of current Conservative Prime Minister David Cameron, Blair described the plan to hold an in-out referendum by 2017 as “a manoeuvre to access some of the UKIP vote, a sop to the rampant anti-Europe feeling of parts of the media.”

UKIP, led by Nigel Farage, are a right-wing anti-EU, anti-immigrant party whose performance in the polls has soared over the past five years at the expense of the center-right Conservative Party.

“Are they (UKIP) the standard bearers of an open-minded culturally tolerant Britain?” Blair asked. “We know what this movement to wrench us out of Europe is based on. You can see it on display when Mr. Farage swiftly moves the debate to immigrants.”

“This issue, touching as it does the country’s future, is too important to be traded like this,” Blair said.

He moved the debate regarding Britain’s EU membership from the national to the international arena.

“A decision to exit Europe would say a lot about us, and none of it good… that, with all the challenges of the world crowding in upon us, demanding strong and clear leadership, instead of saying ‘here’s where the world should go’, we say ‘count us out’,” Blair said.

He also focused on the technicalities and difficulties of leaving the EU, saying there was “a complete underestimation of the short-term pain of negotiating exit. There would be a raft of different treaties, association agreements and partnerships to be disentangled and renegotiated… should the vote go the way of exit, then there would be the most intense period of business anxiety, reconsideration of options and instability since the war.”

In an attempt to swing businesses over to Labour’s cause, Blair added, “If I was leading a business dependent on access to the single market or, more important, employed in such a business, then the issue of Europe and the risks of this would be a big decider in my vote.”

He poured cold water on Cameron’s assertion that he would be able to renegotiate the terms of Britain’s membership, saying, “They (EU) will believe that Britain wants to have the benefits of the single market without the responsibilities. They will be determined to prevent that… The rest of Europe will be vigorous in ensuring Britain gets no special treatment. This will be a horrible process. Don’t be in any doubt about that.”

– Reaction

The Conservative Party defended their leader in a pre-emptive statement published before Blair’s speech, saying that “David Cameron has stood up for Britain in Europe – securing a cut in the EU budget, vetoing a new EU Fiscal Treaty that didn’t guarantee a level playing field for British business, and getting British taxpayers out of bailing out the Euro.”

Cameron will renegotiate Britain’s place in the EU “so that it works for Britain” and put the outcome to the people in a referendum by 2017, the statement added.

Nick Clegg, leader of the centrist Liberal Democrats Party, agreed with Blair’s warning over an EU referendum.

Clegg, who made his comments on Tuesday morning at a press conference at the National Liberal Club in Westminster, central London, is also the current deputy-prime minister of the Conservative-Liberal Democrat coalition government. The coalition came to power in 2010 after elections in the same year ended in a hung parliament.

The U.K. general election will take place on May 7, 2015.

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