British shoppers unexpectedly cut back on their spending in January as last year's Brexit vote pushed up inflation, official data showed on Friday, as former Prime Minister Tony Blair issued a rallying cry for people to change their minds on the decision to leave the EU. Ivor Bennett reports.
He left power nearly 10 years ago. But Tony Blair can still pull a crowd. And the former primer minister is still hoping to have some influence on Britain's future with the EU. SOUNDBITE (English) TONY BLAIR, FORMER BRITISH PRIME MINISTER, SAYING: "The people voted without knowledge of the terms of Brexit. As these terms become clear, it is their right to change their mind. Our mission is to persuade them to do so." That could be tough, though, given that current members of parliament have given their approval for divorce proceedings to begin. But some believe his intervention could yet have an effect. SOUNDBITE (English) JEREMY COOK, CHIEF ECONOMIST, WORLD FIRST, SAYING: "Hopefully it galvanizes maybe the tone of the negotiations moving forward and holds the government closer to account as to what they said during the campaign as opposed to the white paper that we've seen from the May government moving forward." Even if the terms of Brexit aren't clear, its effect seems to be filtering through. Retail spending fell unexpectedly in January, for a third month in a row. December figures were also revised down - their biggest fall in 20 years Rising prices something shoppers can no longer ignore. SOUNDBITE (English) JEREMY COOK, CHIEF ECONOMIST, WORLD FIRST, SAYING: "If the UK consumer doesn't spend money then that's a really, really, big, red, flashing warning light, obviously for the high street, but also for the economy as a whole, which is 80 percent services sector and a lot of that is private consumption." It was exactly the kind of scenario that 'Remain' campaigners like Blair warned of before the vote to leave. But now, like then, he may find it hard to make people listen.