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Former British PM Tony Blair renews argument against a 'hard' Brexit'

Last month's election stripped Prime Minister Theresa May and her Conservative Party of their parliamentary majority. Blair argues that this creates an opportunity to push for a less drastic exit from the EU.

Former British Prime Minister Tony Blair has self-published a lengthy opinion piece arguing that June's election result presents an opportunity for British politicians to avoid severe economic damage while leaving the European Union.

Prime Minister Theresa May called the snap election in order to bolster her mandate to negotiate the country's exit from the bloc, or 'Brexit' as it is popularly called. But instead of a mandate, May's Tories suffered a humiliating setback.

They won the lion's share of the votes but lost their sizable parliamentary majority - forcing them into a governing coalition with a small conservative party from Northern Ireland.

"Large numbers of people voted to stop a hard Brexit and rejected the mandate Theresa May was demanding," Blair wrote in his article, which was published on the website of a public policy institute that he founded, the Institute for Global Change.

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Blair acknowledged that both of the country's main political entities - the Conservative Party and the Labour Party - remained wedded to pulling Britain out of the European Union's single market.

The march toward Brexit was being driven by longstanding political divisions within the Conservative Party, he said. The party, he argues, fears that abandoning Brexit or softening the terms would reopen internal divisions that have bedeviled the party over the past three decades.

Blair acknowledges - and laments - that his beloved Labour Party did not campaign against the Brexit. But he called Brexit the biggest political decision since World War II.

Opposing a 'hard' Brexit

In the run-up to last month's election Blair's institute polled voters in the United Kingdom, France and Germany about attitudes towards Europe, Brexit and politics more generally.

The survey, done in conjunction with Luntz Global Partners, found British voters ambivalent toward Europe and not wanting a second referendum on whether to stay or leave.

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But Blair claims that a majority of voters oppose a "hard" Brexit and aspire to "a strong relationship with Europe."

He noted that French and German voters share some of the concerns expressed by their British counterparts, particularly on immigration and concerns about the freedom of movement.

The former prime minister said there was no evidence that Britons wanted to pay a high economic price for Brexit, and so, he argues, "A majority would probably coalesce around a 'soft' Brexit."

The difference between a "hard" and "soft" Brexit comes down to whether the country merely has more autonomy within the Single Market and Customs Union, or makes a clean break from the EU altogether.

Staying within the EU, where more than 50 percent of British exports go, would limit the economic damage a "hard" Brexit seems all but certain to deliver.

"But" Blair admits "we will have to abide by the rules."

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