Former Prime Minister and Labour leader Tony Blair privately met top EU Brexit negotiator Michel Barnier to persuade him to delay the 29 March deadline for the UK leaving, The Telegraph revealed. The tête-à-tête is said to have taken place on 16 February, during the Munich Security Conference in Germany.
The outlet reports that Blair had told Barnier that extending the Article 50 notice period "would provide the time required for clarifying the type of future relationship the UK wants with the EU”.
“Mr. Blair also expressed increasing anxiety in the UK about the economic damages of a ‘no deal’ Brexit”, the minutes from the meeting published by the outlet says.
Notably, at the same time, Blair publicly lobbied for a second referendum, saying in an interview published the very next day after his talk with Barnier that the Brits should be asked “do you really want to proceed” with leaving the EU.
“With this amount of negotiation and this level of mess at a certain point it's not unreasonable to say to the people do you really want to proceed in these circumstances? Or if you do want to proceed do you want a soft Brexit or a hard Brexit?” he said.
The former prime minister is said to have intervened while then-head of government Theresa May was insisting that the UK should leave on the exit date that was earlier agreed upon, asking European leaders for concessions that would allow Britain to do so following her failure to get the Parliament’s approval for her Brexit agreement.
After two more failed attempts to get lawmakers aboard in March, the exit deadline was eventually moved, which did not help either. Following the turmoil, the deadline was shifted again to 31 October, with Theresa May announcing that she would step down.
However, the Brexit process remains in a deadlock even after former Foreign Secretary Boris Johnson became the new prime minister. In a bid to secure all options, he attempted to suspend Parliament until 14 October, but the opposition and several rebel Tories adopted legislation barring him from taking the UK out of the EU without a deal.
Shortly thereafter, the country's Supreme Court ruled that Johnson had acted unlawfully in proroguing the Parliament, ruling that the order was "void and of no effect". The escalating tensions could lead to snap elections in the country by the end of the year.