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Tony Blair criticizes Conservatives over EU referendum

Ex-prime minister Tony Blair has given a speech slamming David Cameron's plan to hold a referendum on Britain's EU membership ahead of the general election. It could have grave consequences for the economy, Blair warned.

Former Prime Minister Tony Blair offered his two cents on

the British general election

on Tuesday, warning that a second term for David Cameron and his Conservatives could herald economic chaos. Returning to his former constituency, the town of Sedgefield on the northeast coast of England, Blair gave a speech in support of the Labour Party candidate Ed Miliband.

Blair's speech concerned, in part, Prime Minister Cameron's promise to renegotiate Britain's ties with Brussels, and hold a referendum on British EU membership by the end of 2017.

"Think of the chaos produced by the possibility, never mind the reality, of Britain actually quitting Europe," said Blair.

"Jobs that are secure suddenly insecure; investment decisions postponed or canceled, a pall of unpredictability hanging over the British economy," Blair added, before arguing that the possibility of a referendum would leave businesses in a state of uncertainly not seen since World War Two.

"I believe passionately that leaving Europe would leave Britain diminished in the world, do significant damage to our economy and, less obviously but just as important to our future, would go against the very qualities that mark us out still as a great global nation," the former leader told the crowd.

Blair's appearance is the first of several stops to raise the profile of Labour candidate Ed Miliband, but it also constitutes a gamble for the party, considering Blair's legacy was greatly tarnished by his unpopular decision to intervene in the Iraq war.

Cameron's Conservatives

, who are neck-and-neck with Labour in most polls ahead of the May 7 vote, rejected the idea that a referendum would deter investors.

Conservatives brush off Blair comments

Conservative finance minister George Osborne, in response to Blair's comments, said that continued inward investment since his party first made the pledge proved that such a move would not be bad for the economy.

Osborne said that the ex-PM was "doing a good service to us all today by…advertising the fact that if you vote Conservative, you get a referendum on Britain's membership of the European Union."

Blair however argued that the Conservatives only made the referendum promise in an effort to try and win back eurosceptic voters who have defected to the anti-EU UK Independence Party (UKIP).

es/jil (AP, Reuters)

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