The British Foreign Secretary Boris Johnson has lambasted former premier Tony Blair for urging opponents of Brexit to “rise up” against leaving the European Union (EU).
In a speech delivered in London on Friday, the former Labour prime minister said, “The people voted without knowledge of the terms of Brexit,” and suggested that “as the terms become clear it is their right to change their mind — our mission is to persuade them to do so.”
In response to his remarks, Johnson censured Blair’s “bare-faced effrontery” and accused him of arrogance and insulting the intelligence of those who had voted to leave the 28-member bloc.
“Now he has the bare-faced effrontery to tell the British people that they were wrong last June. He is showing contempt for the intelligence of the electorate,” he said. “I call on the British people to rise up and turn off the TV when Tony Blair next appears with his condescending campaign.”
Johnson, who was speaking at a G20 foreign ministers summit in the German city of Bonn, also took a swipe at the former premier’s policies regarding the European single currency and Iraq war.
“Whatever his merits as a former prime minister, [Tony Blair] is the guy who would have taken our country into the Euro with what would have been catastrophic consequences; this is the guy who dragooned the United Kingdom into the Iraq War on a completely false prospectus with consequences which foreign ministers here [at the G20 summit] are still trying to deal with,” he said.
In his scathing speech, Blair condemned the government of Theresa May for taking the country out of the EU “at any cost,” saying, “The Prime Minister and her Government are not masters of this situation, they are not driving the bus. They are being driven.”
He called on ignoring the referendum result because of growing evidence that the costs of divorce from the EU were greater than they had seemed.
“I don’t know if we can succeed. But I do know we will suffer a rancorous verdict from future generations if we do not try,” Blair concluded.
Johnson was a staunch supporter of Brexit in the run-up to the last year’s referendum, while Blair was fiercely against leaving the union during his tenure as prime minister between 1997 and 2007.
In a landmark referendum held on June 23, nearly 52 percent of British voters, amounting to more than 17 million citizens, opted to leave the EU, a decision that sent shock waves throughout the world.
However, recent polls show that most Britons would vote to remain in the EU if another referendum were to be held.
A Google survey for The Mirror found that if the EU referendum were held again, 51 percent would vote to remain in the bloc, while 49 percent would vote to leave.
Prime Minister May has indicated that she wants to trigger Article 50 of the Lisbon Treaty by the end of March, starting formal talks with the EU over the terms of the country’s exit.
In a few days, the House of Lords will start debating legislation which, if approved, gives the prime minister the right to officially begin the two-year process.
May has argued that Britain is ready to sacrifice membership of the EU’s single market, customs union and the European Court of Justice in order to regain control of its borders.
Retaining access to the single market has been one of the major worries for UK businesses ever since the country voted to leave the EU in June.