Former UK Prime Minister Tony Blair is “deeply worried” that Britain could decide by referendum to leave the EU, he told Germany’s Die Zeit newspaper in an interview.
Blair added in the interview, published yesterday (9 August), that the transfer of competences to the EU must lead to more democratic legitimacy as well, and said that “Britain must play a strong role in this”.
With words of caution, he told the German publication that the mishandling of the issue could create “a political crisis that could become just as big as the euro crisis”, saying that “people will not go along with the abolishment (sic.) of the nation state”.
In May former EU trade commissioner Peter Mandelson called for a referendum on the future of the UK’s position in Europe.
A UK referendum would be difficult to call
Pressure to leave the EU is rising in the UK. The right-wing, scandal-tinged former defence minister Liam Fox – who was forced to resign last year after taking a friend on overseas trips – last month said: “Life outside the EU holds no terror... The people of this country are unhappy with the relationship. It's the duty of politicians to listen.”
Polls show that an increasing number of Britons would vote to reject EU membership in a referendum, and the result would be likely to be finely balanced. Current PM David Cameron said last month that it was “a perfectly respectable position” to call for an referendum on the matter.
Cameron has taken a hard line with Europe, most prominently by vetoing a fiscal treaty last December. Eurosceptics in the UK argue that EU regulations hold back the country’s economy, and take in billions of pounds of membership dues, something that could be fixed by leaving the 27-nation group.
However, supporters of membership argue Britain would lose influence if it left the EU, its biggest trading partner, and that its economy would still be influenced by rules made in Brussels anyway.