In a highly unusual war of words between a sitting prime minister and one of their predecessors, Mr Blair called Ms May “irresponsible” for trying to “steamroller” her Brexit deal through Parliament.
Responding to Ms May’s criticism, the former prime minister insisted it was “not irresponsible or insulting” for him to campaign for a fresh Brexit referendum and denied he had undermined her during Brexit negotiations.
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Mr Blair has been a vocal advocate of the public being given a Final Say vote on Brexit and on Friday called on the EU to prepare to extend Article 50 in order to allow more time for further negotiations or another referendum.
That prompted Ms May to launch an astonishing attack on the him.May attacks Blair for ‘subverting Brexit process for own interests’
In a statement, she claimed “there are too many people who want to subvert the process for their own political interests rather than acting in the national interest”.
“For Tony Blair to go to Brussels and seek to undermine our negotiations by advocating for a second referendum is an insult to the office he once held and the people he once served,” she said.
Mr Blair is understood not to have visited Brussels for several months, and it is unclear what prompted the timing of Ms May’s attack.
Supporters of a fresh referendum pointed out that she had not condemned former Conservative prime minister John Major, who also backs another referendum and last week travelled to Ireland to call for the British government to revoke Article 50 “with immediate effect”.
Responding with a statement of his own, Mr Blair said it was clear that “neither the British people nor their Parliament will unit behind the prime minister’s deal”.
He continued: “In these circumstances it is not irresponsible or insulting to put forward an alternative way to achieve resolution. The sensible thing is now to allow Parliament to vote on each of the forms of Brexit canvassed including the prime minister’s deal.
“If they can’t reach agreement then the logical thing is to go back to the people. To describe such a course as an insult is a strange description of what would be the opportunity for them to instruct Parliament as to how to proceed. Far from being anti democratic it would be the opposite, as indeed many senior figures in her party from past and present have been saying.”
In a clear attack on Ms May, he continued: “What is irresponsible however is to try to steamroller MPs into accepting a deal they genuinely think is a bad one with the threat that if they do not fall into line, the Government will have the country crash out without a deal.
And suggesting the prime minister was not acting in the national interest, he added: “I have always said, and did again in my speech on Friday in London, that I personally sympathise with the PM’s heavy burden in doing her job. I do not disrespect her at all. I understand her frustration. But I profoundly believe that the course she is pursuing will not work and is emphatically not in the National interest. And that’s the reason I am speaking out and shall continue to do so.”
Mr Blair is one of three of the four living prime ministers to back another Brexit referendum, with Gordon Brown and Mr Major also supporting the calls. Only David Cameron has not done so.
Ms May is under mounting pressure to let the public decide the terms of Brexit in order to break deadlock in Parliament.
Reports suggest David Lidington, her deputy, has held talks with Labour MPs with a view to building a cross-party consensus on the issue.
The Independent has launched its #FinalSay campaign to demand that voters are given a voice on the final Brexit deal.