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Shadow Chancellor condemns ‘out of touch’ Tony Blair in spat over Corbyn’s approach to Brexit

‘To be frank, Mr Blair hasn’t really listened to the nature of the debate that is going on in the pubs, the clubs and school gates’

Rob Merrick
Deputy Political Editor
Saturday 15 July 2017 11:21 BST
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John McDonnell said Tony Blair did not spend time talking to voters
John McDonnell said Tony Blair did not spend time talking to voters

John McDonnell has hit back at Tony Blair’s criticism of Labour’s failure to fight a hard Brexit, describing him as out of touch with the public.

The former prime minister did not spend time talking to voters “in the pubs, the clubs and school gates”, the Shadow Chancellor noted.

In an article insisting EU withdrawal can be stopped, Mr Blair said Jeremy Corbyn’s “ambiguity” about leaving the single market was a policy that could not be sustained.

He warned it “puts us in the same damaging position for the economy as the Tories” – making it impossible for Mr Corbyn to end austerity, as he has pledged.

In his article, Mr Blair also described the party’s vision of a “jobs first” Brexit outside the single market as a “contradiction in terms”.

However, speaking at a strike rally for low-paid hospital workers in east London, Mr McDonnell insisted the result of the referendum had to be respected.

“What most people want now is a Brexit that will protect the economy, protect their jobs and not affect their living standards,” he said.

“We think we can negotiate access and that will protect jobs and will protect the economy.

“If we can change the tone of the negotiations into one which is based upon mutual interests and mutual respect, we can get more flexibility.”

Mr McDonnell added: “To be frank, Mr Blair hasn’t really listened to the nature of the debate that is going on in the pubs, the clubs and school gates etc.”

Mr Corbyn himself also dismissed Mr Blair’s intervention, telling Sky News that the party “recognises the result of the referendum a year ago”.

The criticism that Mr Blair was out of step with the public was echoed by Robin Walker, a Brexit minister, who said: “The majority of British people voted to leave the EU.

“By calling for the will of the people and Parliament to be overturned, Tony Blair is demonstrating once again that he is out of touch.”

In the eight-page article, the former prime minister reignited his criticisms of Mr Corbyn – even while acknowledging his “remarkable result which I did not foresee”.

He wrote: “If a right-wing populist punch in the form of Brexit was followed by a left-wing populist punch in the form of unreconstructed hard-left economics, Britain would hit the canvas, flat on our back and be out for a long count.

“The Labour party should be cautious in thinking ‘one more heave’ will deliver victory next time.

“The Corbyn campaign was a positive factor in the election result; but the determining factor was the Tory campaign.”

On Brexit, Mr Blair said: “If Labour continues to be for leaving the single market, and the signs are that it will, then we are essentially for the same policy as the Government. This will become apparent to those who voted Remain.”

But Mr McDonnell said: “If you listen to ordinary people in this country now, what they want is basically a Brexit that will protect their jobs and protect the economy.

“We believe we can achieve that traditional British compromise of bringing people back together again. That is what we need now.”

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