UK's Blair says EU exit would be "monumental error"

Wed Nov 28, 2012 9:21am EST
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LONDON (Reuters) - Prime Minister David Cameron risks committing a monumental error that would threaten Britain's status as a world power if he allows rising anti-European Union sentiment to spiral into an EU exit, former leader Tony Blair said on Wednesday.

Britain's tortured relations with Europe have shot to the top of the political agenda in recent months, with rebellious anti-EU members of Cameron's ruling Conservatives pushing for a new role inside the 27-nation bloc - or even leaving altogether.

But while turning away from Europe may be a vote winner in the short-term, it would isolate Britain, undermine its international standing and damage its economy at a time of shifting global power, Blair said.

"This is the last moment conceivable that we should start talking about leaving... marginalizing ourselves at the very point at which we should be at the centre of things," Blair, who won three elections for the Labour Party, said in a speech at the Chatham House thinktank in London.

Cameron suffered a humiliating defeat in parliament on October 31 when rebels sided with Labour to demand EU spending cuts. He also faces a threat from the UK Independence Party, an anti-EU minority group.

The anti-EU camp sees Brussels as a meddling, wasteful superstate that threatens Britain's sovereignty. A poll on November 17 suggested 56 percent want to leave, against 30 percent who want to stay.

Urging politicians to do more to combat the anti-EU mood, Blair said Britain faced a "real and present danger by edging towards the exit".

"It would be a monumental error of statesmanship to turn our back on it and fall away from a crucial position of power and influence," Blair, wearing a navy suit and tie, told business leaders in the basement of an elegant 18th century townhouse.

'LITTLE ENGLANDERS'   Continued...