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Tony Blair warns of 'serious economic shock' if Leave vote wins

Published 08/06/2016

John Micklethwait, editor-in-chief of Bloomberg Editorial, speaks to former prime minister Tony Blair during a Bloomberg Television interview in London (Simon Dawson/Bloomberg/PA)
John Micklethwait, editor-in-chief of Bloomberg Editorial, speaks to former prime minister Tony Blair during a Bloomberg Television interview in London (Simon Dawson/Bloomberg/PA)

Tony Blair has questioned the sincerity of Boris Johnson's role in the Brexit campaign, suggesting it is "strange" that the former mayor of London apparently went from agonising over whether the UK should stay in the EU to becoming the Leave campaign's biggest cheerleader.

The former prime minister said he believed the UK would vote to Remain in the 28-nation bloc in the June 23 referendum.

And he warned of "seismic consequences" if Leave wins, arguing that it was beyond dispute that Brexit would trigger a "serious economic shock" lasting at least several years for the whole UK.

In an interview with Bloomberg Television, Mr Blair was asked whether Mr Johnson's outspoken activities on the campaign trail made him unfit to be PM.

The former Labour leader replied: "Whether he's fit or not to be prime minister is not dependent on this vote, but I find it hard to understand how someone who's been mayor of London can seriously think it's not going to be economically damaging if Britain leaves the European Union."

And he added: "One of the things I find strange is when people say, `Look, I had to agonise over this decision, I'm not quite sure, but now I've come down on the side of Remain'. This is not one of those decisions. This is a decision where you should only be for Leave if you're absolutely clear. If you're not clear, don't do it."

Asked whether he was convinced that Mr Johnson's support for the Leave side was absolutely clear in this way, Mr Blair replied: "I f you look back at some of the things he's said in the past, it's indicated that he thinks it would be wrong for Britain to leave the European Union. Now he's frankly the most out-there campaigner of the Leave campaign. I think it's a strange position to find yourself in.

"If you've been in government - and in a sense being mayor of London you're in some sort of situation of government - you know how big this decision is and its consequences.

"If Britain leaves, the day after you're going to get the beginnings of what will be a serious economic shock for the country. You literally cannot dispute that, because you will put then on the table your entire relationship with the European Union that's grown over four decades of interlocking trade agreements and service agreements.

"All of that has then got to be renegotiated or scrapped, and given that half our trade is with the European Union, how can you not think that you are at least going to suffer several years of economic uncertainty?"

Mr Blair said Prime Minister David Cameron had "fought the campaign you would expect from him and you'd want from him", arguing that there was "nothing more he can do as Prime Minister" to support the Remain cause.

He said he expected a high turnout, explaining: " I think people do understand it's a decision with seismic consequences - particularly economic consequences - and I can't believe people will shuffle this one off and I think we will have a substantially higher turnout than in a general election."

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