New Labour's taking on Brexit – with Richard Branson's backing

As Tony Blair plans to launch a separate not-for-profit in the new year...

New Labour's taking on Brexit – with Richard Branson's backing

Richard Branson meeting Tony Blair in 2005.Picture by Eric Cabanis PA Archive/PA Images

The Brexit vote has awoken the old New Labour beast from its slumber across the Irish Sea, as Tony Blair re-enters the fray to take on a resurgent populism and many of his former allies launch a Richard Branson-backed, anti-Brexit campaign.

According to the UK's Independent, a number of former New Labour ministers and advisers have secretly been working on a campaign to push for a second referendum on the UK's membership of the EU, and Virgin Group has been bankrolling it.

The newspaper claims to have seen a memo written by Alan Milburn – one of Blair's close cabinet allies during his time as prime minister – that reveals how it has been in planning for months and made "substantial progress" with an "excellent potential CEO" identified.

Heavyweight financial, corporate and political support is secured, with prominent 'Remain' figures such as Nick Clegg and Bob Geldof believed to have been in contact with the group.

Said group includes three of Blair's Downing Street advisers – Kate Garvey, Peter Hyman and Sally Morgan – as well as former New Labour cabinet ministers Douglas Alexander and John Hutton.

Matthew Freud, a close friend of Blair and David Cameron, is managing and marketing the campaign through his public relations agency.

The email states:

"We have been beavering away over the last few months to get a Europe campaign up and running. I’m pleased to say that substantial progress has been made.

"I have met the Freuds team several times and we are making good progress. I have been in discussions with an excellent potential CEO to lead the campaign.

"Virgin … are keen to help ... Since we last spoke [they] have offered a further £25k, plus bigger office space, help with legal advice and a possible secondment.

I have held discussions with Stronger In, Chuka Umunna, a new organisation called Common Ground, Bob Geldof and a number of senior politicians across the party spectrum."

While Milburn declined to comment, a Virgin spokesperson told the Independent:

"Since the EU referendum, Virgin has not made any payments to any Brexit campaign or organisation. It is well known that Richard supported the Remain campaign before the referendum, and as a result people involved in all sides of the debate are interested in Virgin’s views on Brexit and its impact on business. Virgin is interested in engaging with different organisations to understand the impact Brexit will have on the UK."

While those Blairites prepare to unveil that campaign next year, Tony Blair has his own plans.

Apparently concerned that the centre ground is losing influence as populist politics rides a wave of success, be it Brexit or Trump-related, his new not-for-profit institute will bring him back into the political spotlight in 2017.

Blair was a vocal opponent of Brexit, with pro-Leave campaigners painting his endorsement for a 'Remain' vote as "toxic" as far as voters were concerned.

The institute will not focus solely on Britain, according to the Guardian, but will look at issues such as stagnating wages, immigration, anti-elitism and attitudes to globalisation.

In a recent Esquire interview, Blair criticised current Labour Party leader Jeremy Corbyn for pushing a set of "ultra-left" policies "that takes us back to the Sixties" and said of his future political involvement

"I don't know if there's a role for me ... there's a limit to what I want to say about my own position at this moment.

"All I can say is that this is where politics is at. Do I feel strongly about it? Yes, I do. Am I very motivated by that? Yes.

"Where do I go from here? What exactly do I do? That's an open question."