Tony Blair accused of patronising the public by suggesting they cannot be trusted to make the 'sensible choice' on staying in EU

Blair used a speech to condemn the Tory policy of holding a referendum on the UK’s membership of the EU, saying it would cause economic 'chaos'

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Tony Blair has been accused of patronising the British people by suggesting that they cannot be trusted to make the “sensible choice” on whether the UK should remain part of the EU.

In his first major intervention in the general election campaign, the former Labour prime minister used a speech in his former constituency of Sedgefield to condemn the Conservatives’ policy of holding a referendum on the UK’s membership of the EU, saying it would cause economic “chaos”.

Mr Blair, who is pro-European and does not think a referendum should be held, said the emotions that such a vote would whip up across Britain would be similar to those felt during the debate over Scottish independence, which he was also against.

 

“Nationalism is a powerful sentiment. Let that genie out of the bottle and it is a Herculean task to put it back. Reason alone struggles. The referendum on Europe carries with it the same risk,” he said.

“For that reason, should the Conservatives win, one other thing will be certain: the PM will be spending more energy, will have more sleepless nights about it, be more focused on it than literally any other single issue.

“He knows the vastness of the decision. He knows the penalty of failure. He knows exit will define his legacy. And, following the Scottish referendum, he knows the perilous fragility of public support for the sensible choice.”

His remarks were immediately seized upon by David Cameron, who said it was “extraordinary” that Mr Blair “doesn’t think people should be given a say in a referendum on Europe”. He added later: “You cannot ignore the will of the people.”

George Osborne also criticised Mr Blair’s comments. “What he’s really saying is he doesn’t want to ask the British people their opinion, their view, respectfully. Well I disagree with him,” the Chancellor said.

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