LONDON, U.K. - In a speech addressing an event organised by Open Britain campaign group in London, former U.K. Prime Minister Tony Blair said that people voted in the referendum "without knowledge of the true terms of Brexit.”
Blair reportedly said, “People voted without knowledge of the true terms of Brexit. As these terms become clear, it is their right to change their mind. Our mission is to persuade them to do so."
Blair, who was prime minister of the United Kingdom from 1997 to 2007, made his opposition to a ‘Hard Brexit’ public, with a pledge to find “a way out from the present rush over the cliff’s edge.”
Setting himself up for a standoff with Theresa May's Conservative government, which Blair accused of being a "government for Brexit, of Brexit and dominated by Brexit," he argued "those driving this always wanted a hard Brexit."
"Indeed even the term hard Brexit requires amendment. The policy is now Brexit at any cost."
"Our challenge is to expose relentlessly the actual cost, to show how this decision was based on imperfect knowledge which will now become informed knowledge," Blair said.
The Labor leader also categorically rejected May's argument that her opponents are "citizens of nowhere."
"How hideously, in this debate, is the mantle of patriotism abused. We do not argue for Britain in Europe because we are citizens of nowhere. We argue for it precisely because we are proud citizens of our country who believe that in the 21st century, we should maintain our partnership with the biggest political union and largest commercial market right on our doorstep," he reportedly stated in his speech.
Blair acknowledged "genuine concerns" over immigration but claimed that "for many people" the main concern is around entrants from countries outside the bloc.
"Nonetheless, we have moved in a few months from a debate about what sort of Brexit involving a balanced consideration of all the different possibilities; to the primacy of one consideration - namely controlling immigration from the EU - without any real discussion as to why and when Brexit doesn't affect the immigration people most care about," he said.
Meanwhile, Prime Minister May has said Britain will not try to “cherry pick” which parts of the European Union it maintains access to after Brexit.
Writing in French newspaper Le Figaro, she said, "As we leave the EU, we will seek the greatest possible access to the European single market through a new, comprehensive, bold, ambitious free trade agreement.”
"This cannot, however, mean retaining membership of the single market. We do not, to borrow the phrase, seek to cherry-pick which bits of membership we desire."
The prime minister has pledged to invoke Article 50 by the end of March 2017 - formally beginning Brexit negotiations.