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Blair, Major and Clegg’s mission to keep Britain in the EU

Tony Blair, John Major and Nick Clegg have been travelling around Europe to persuade the continent’s leaders to put a stop to Brexit, it has emerged. 

The former party leaders – one from each of the UK’s three largest parties – have met heads of government and senior ministers from Germany, France, Italy and the Netherlands in recent weeks. 

They have reportedly sought to persuade EU leaders that ‘the atmosphere has changed’ since the 2016 referendum and that Britain needed to postpone its departure to allow more time for negotiations and a possible second vote.

Mr Clegg, who has joined the two former PMs in their ‘shuttle diplomacy’, said current British politics had made it ‘viable’ for the UK’s exit to be stopped, the Guardian reported.  

Nick Clegg

Former Labour PM Tony Blair (left) and ex-Liberal Democrat leader Nick Clegg (right) have been meeting European leaders in recent weeks in a bid to put a stop to Brexit 

The former deputy PM has met Dutch leader Mark Rutte, ex-German finance minister Wolfgang Schäuble, and aides of French President Emmanuel Macron in recent weeks. 

He has also met senior German politicians Peter Altmeier and Sigmar Gabriel, and the People’s Vote campaign he works wit has appointed former EU commission official Tom Cole as a liaison with Brussels’s diplomatic missions in London.  

Mr Blair – who today repeated a call for a second referendum – spoke with Italy’s hardline interior minister Matteo Salvini and has also met senior figures in Germany and Austria.  

Their discussions have reportedly been fed back to a group of pro-Remain MPs who meet on Wednesdays in gatherings chaired by Labour’s Chuka Umunna. 

One source said the group was not trying to ‘subvert’ negotiations but was trying to provide EU leaders with information about British politics which did not come from Whitehall.  

As a former European Commission employee Mr Clegg worked closely with some of Michel Barnier’s negotiating team.

Speaking from Italy he said: ‘For a year after the referendum I was received with a mixture of curiosity and pity on the basis it was not remotely likely anything was going to stop Brexit. The atmosphere has changed.

‘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.’  

The ex-Lib Dem leader is said to be suggesting plans for the UK to vote in the May 2019 European elections and have British MEPs resign their seats later on. 

He also held talks with Mr Barnier, the EU’s chief Brexit negotiator, saying Britain had to ‘deal with the questions of immigration and the anxieties that gave rise to [Brexit]’. 

Speaking at the Open Future Festival today Mr Blair said the EU should make Britain an offer to stay in the 28-member bloc.

Blair, Major and Clegg's mission to keep Britain in the EU

Former Conservative PM John Major, who has spoken out against Brexit in the past, is also said to be involved in diplomatic efforts with Mr Blair and Mr Clegg 

He also warned Labour members and MPs not to leave for a new party as it would be ‘impossible’ to create a viable centrist movement, The Times reported.      

The former PM said: ‘I think there is paralysis in the British Parliament, my view is they should make us an offer.

‘I personally think there is a paralysis in Parliament, the best response would be to go back to the people and say look, we have had two-and-a-half years of this negotiation, we now know all the options, do you want to proceed or do you want to stay. 

‘I think the problem is when we look for people to blame, whether it’s business on the left or immigrants on the right, rather than understanding that this is a world of change and we need to master it.

‘None of the problems that Britain has and the challenges it faces are going to be easier to resolve out of Europe. They are actually going to be easier to resolve in Europe.

‘And the thing that pains me is when you have a young working class person in north of England thinks they are more likely to get a job if we stop some Polish guy coming and working in a bar in London. It isn’t true.’ 

Mr Blair said there was a ‘fundamental dilemma’ which the past months of negotiations had never resolved, which was either stay close to Europe or break completely with the single market and customs union.  

In February former Tory PM Mr Major, who faced a series of party divisions over Europe during the 1990s, warned of a ‘terrible backlash’ from the public if EU withdrawal leaves the UK poorer and weaker.

He called on Mrs May to stand up to the ‘ultra-Brexit’ minority in her party and drop her ‘red lines’ of taking Britain out of the single market and customs union.