Feb. 17 (UPI) -- Former British Prime Minister Tony Blair urged British citizens to rethink their country's departure from the European Union in an address Friday.
It was Blair's first major speech on Brexit since voters approved the "leave" referendum in June 52 to 48 percent. During the referendum, Blair, prime minister from 1997 to 2007, campaigned in favor of remaining in the European Union.
At an event in London hosted by Open Britain, a multi-party political group campaigning for Britain to remain in the EU, Blair said his "mission" was to get those voting in favor of keeping Britain in the EU to "rise up in defense of what we believe."
He called the Brexit a "rush over the cliff's edge."
"I want to be explicit. Yes, the British people voted to leave Europe. And I agree the will of the people should prevail. I accept right now there is no widespread appetite to re-think. But the 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. What was unfortunately only dim in our sight before the referendum is now in plain sight. The road we're going down is not simply Hard Brexit. It is Brexit At Any Cost.I don't know if we can succeed. But I do know we will suffer a rancorous verdict from future generations if we do not try."
The referendum result stunned many observers, led to a decline in the value of the British pound and left the country's economic future uncertain and without relied-upon protocols for buying and selling goods, travel and immigration between Britain and the rest of Europe. Current British Prime Minister Theresa May has indicated she seeks formal talks on a British exit to begin by March.
Blair added that the challenge now was "to expose relentlessly what this cost is, to show how the decision was based on imperfect knowledge which will now become informed knowledge, to calculate in 'easy to understand' ways how proceeding will cause real damage to our country. They will say the will of the people can't alter. It can. They will say leaving is inevitable. It isn't. They will say we don't represent the people. We do, many millions of them and with determination many millions more."
Several British politicians quickly announced their disagreement with Blair's comments. Former Tory leader Iain Duncan said he agreed with Blair's opinion but called the speech undemocratic and arrogant. Former U.K. Independence Party leader Nigel Farage referred to Blair as "yesterday's man."
Foreign Secretary Boris Johnson commented: "I urge the British people to rise up and turn off the TV next time Blair comes on with his condescending campaign."