A defiant Tony Blair vowed to ignore a "volley of abuse" from right-wing "media cartels" and build a pro-EU movement in the face of a so called "hard Brexit", the former Labour prime minister declared on Friday morning (17 February).

"You can like the messengers or not like the messenger and this is a free country so I've got a right to speak and you've got the freedom to listen or not," he said. "I know there will be a volley of abuse that will come my way, but I'm speaking because I believe in it and I care about the country."

Blair added: "The will of the people is not some fixed immutable thing that can never change irrespective of the facts that have been bought to their attention.

"When people voted on 23 June, I accept entirely that they voted to get out of Europe.

"But they didn't at that point know what the alternative was. It was like a house swap: They said 'yep, we want to swap our house', but they hadn't seen the other one."

The co-architect of New Labour also urged pro-EU voters in the UK to "rise up in defence of our beliefs" in a speech at Bloomberg's London headquarters, organised by the Open Britain pressure group.

"The second challenge is the absence of an opposition which looks capable on the polls of beating the Government. The debilitation of the Labour Party is the facilitator of Brexit. I hate to say that, but it is true," he said.

"What this means is that we have to build a movement which stretches across Party lines; and devise new ways of communication."

The comments come just around a month before Theresa May plans to invoke Article 50 of the Lisbon Treaty and trigger divorce talks with the EU in March.

The prime minister, in her Lancaster House speech, said the government would not seek to maintain the UK's membership of EU's single-market.

The move, in part, is so that her ministers can introduce immigration curbs, barred under the EU's free movement of people rules.

"Nothing else truly matters: not the NHS, now in its most severe crisis since its creation; not the real challenge of the modern economy, the new technological revolutions of AI and Big Data; not the upgrade of our education system to prepare people for this new world; not investment in communities left behind by globalisation; not the rising burden of serious crime; or bulging prison populations; or social care; not even, irony of ironies, a genuine policy to control immigration," Blair said.

Pro-EU campaigners attack Blair

Caroline Lucas
Caroline Lucas, Green co-leader Getty

But the former prime minister, who enjoyed a 10 year spell in Downing Street and won three general elections, was criticised by fellow-EU politicians over his intervention.

Green co-leader Caroline Lucas branded it "staggeringly unhelpful", while Lucy Thomas, the former deputy chief of the Strong In campaign, said: "Not all former Remain campaigners agree with this. Brexit was [a] democratic vote and [we] need to work for [the] best possible version of it."

Pro-Brexit Conservative MP Dominic Raab, who sits on the Exiting the EU Select Committee, was blunter.

"However they voted in the referendum, most people have accepted the result and now want the UK to get on with making a success of its new place outside the EU," he said. "Tony Blair, who allowed uncontrolled migration from the EU when Labour was in power, refuses to accept the decision people made last June.

"He wants to go on putting the question over and over again until he gets a different answer. It is the height of arrogance and nothing could be more likely to convince the EU to offer the UK the worst possible deal than his suggestion that the decision could be overturned."

May's 12-point Brexit plan

  1. Government will provide certainty and clarity to politicians and businesses.
  2. UK will 'control our own laws' by quitting the European Court of Justice.
  3. May will strengthen the 'precious union' between England, Wales, Northern Ireland and Scotland.
  4. There will be no hard border between Northern Ireland and the Republic of Ireland.
  5. UK will 'control' EU immigration, while recruiting the 'brightest and the best' from around the world.
  6. Government will seek a reciprocal residency rights deal for EU and UK workers 'as soon as possible'.
  7. May has promised to protect workers' rights.
  8. Ministers will seek a 'bold' and 'comprehensive' free trade agreement with the EU.
  9. UK will seek a customs agreement so that it can broker its own trade deals with non-EU nations.
  10. May will keep European science and innovation ties in bid to keep the UK a 'world leader'.
  11. UK will continue to work with the EU in bid a bid to combat the threat of terrorism.
  12. Ministers will seek to avoid a 'cliff edge' and seek a smooth split from the EU.