John McDonnell hits back at Blair’s criticism of Labour’s Brexit policy

Shadow chancellor says referendum result has to be respected and Labour is confident it can negotiate access to European markets post-Brexit.

The shadow chancellor, John McDonnell, has hit back at Tony Blair’s criticism of Labour’s Brexit policy, accusing him of being out of touch with ordinary people.

The Labour leadership has dismissed a call by Blair to leave open the option of Britain remaining a member of a reformed European Union.

The former prime minister said in an article that the election of Emmanuel Macron as French president had opened up the prospect of real change in Europe, which could enable Britain to stay in the bloc.

The Labour leader, Jeremy Corbyn, said the party respected the outcome of last year’s referendum vote to leave, while McDonnell insisted there was no desire to reopen the divisions over Brexit.

“We do recognise the results of the referendum of a year ago,” Corbyn told Sky News.

Speaking at a strike rally for low-paid hospital workers in east London, McDonnell said Labour was confident it would be able to negotiate continued access to European markets after Brexit.

He said the result of the referendum had to be respected and that what most “ordinary people” now wanted was a Brexit that would protect the economy and their jobs.

“We believe we can achieve that traditional British compromise of bringing people back together again,” he said. “That is what we need now. What we don’t want is to have divisions in the country again.

“To be frank, Mr Blair hasn’t really listened to the nature of the debate that is going on in the pubs, the clubs and school gates.”

McDonnell’s comments were echoed by the Brexit minister Robin Walker, who called Blair “out of touch”.

“The majority of British people voted to leave the EU. The majority of MPs, including Blair’s own Labour party, voted to trigger article 50,” he said.

“By calling for the will of the people and parliament to be overturned, Tony Blair is demonstrating once again that he is out of touch.”

Blair said his contacts with senior European figures had convinced him the EU was ready to change and that the option of Britain remaining a member should be left on the table.

In an interview with BBC Radio 4 Today, he said: “This is a completely changed situation in Europe. I’m not going to disclose conversations I’ve had within Europe, but I’m not saying this literally on the basis of a whim.”