LONDON (Reuters) - Former Prime Minister Tony Blair said on Wednesday the government should be ready to ask the European Union for more time to complete divorce talks to avoid the risk of leaving without a deal.
Two years since the vote to leave, the United Kingdom remains deeply divided over the planned EU exit that Prime Minister Theresa May says will take place in March next year.
Both opponents and supporters of Brexit agree that the divorce is Britain’s most significant geopolitical move since World War Two, though they forecast vastly different futures for the $2.5 trillion UK economy and the world’s biggest trading bloc.
Blair, Labour prime minister from 1997 to 2007, said crashing out of the EU without an agreement would be a “devastating blow” and that he is more worried than ever about the country’s future.
“We should plan now for the possibility we need to extend the March 2019 deadline ... we are drifting towards March 2019 with no clear negotiating position,” he said in a speech in central London.
This, he added, “is the equivalent of holding a negotiation on the top floor of a high-rise building and ‘threatening’ to jump out of the window if our demands are not met. The whole thing has become so protracted that it has numbed our outrage.”
Blair’s comment comes at a critical moment in the Brexit process. Next week, May is expected to convene a meeting to end the infighting in her cabinet over what it wants from a new relationship with the EU.
She also faces battles in parliament where some lawmakers want to force her to go back on promises to leave the bloc’s single market and customs union.
Blair said Britain has been able to drift because May is “more a hostage than a leader” amid infighting in her cabinet.
Blair has repeatedly called for reversing Brexit, echoing other critics such as French President Emmanuel Macron and billionaire investor George Soros, who have suggested that Britain could still change its mind.
Editing by Stephen Addison