Belfast Telegraph

A hard border on the island of Ireland would be complete disaster, Blair warns

By PA Reporters

Tony Blair has said a deal between Britain and Ireland on the future of the border with Northern Ireland is the best way of limiting damage from Brexit.

The former Prime Minister told a meeting in the Irish Republic of Europe's centre-Right political groups that a "hard border" on the island would be a disaster.

"If the UK and the Republic were able to agree a way forward on the border, then we would have the best chance of limiting the damage. It is in the interests of us all, including our European partners, for this to happen," Mr Blair said.

He said getting consensus on the border will be crucial in the Brexit negotiations.

"Some disruption is inevitable and indeed is already happening. However, it is essential that we do all we possibly can to preserve arrangements which have served both countries well and which command near universal support," Mr Blair added.

"A hard border between the countries would be a disaster and I am sure everyone will and must do all they can to avoid it."

The EU's chief Brexit negotiator Michel Barnier also attended the conference in Co Wicklow of the European People's Party (EPP), the largest group in the European Parliament.

Mr Barnier then travelled to the Republic's border with Northern Ireland and held discussions at a business park in Co Monaghan.

On Thursday he warned that Customs controls are part of the EU's border management.

Mr Blair said he was anxious Brexit does not impair the Good Friday Agreement but warned it would have to be changed when the UK leaves Europe.

"There's bits of the Good Friday Agreement that specifically assume that Britain and the Irish Republic are in the EU, so obviously a change of language, but I don't think a change of substance," he said. Mr Blair said the biggest challenge with Brexit was for the EU, as the border with Northern Ireland will become the frontier for Europe.

"If there's goodwill and a lot of ingenuity and innovation and maybe, I don't know, the use of technology and a lot of things, I think we can minimise disruption," Mr Blair added.

Mr Blair said it was vital that the Common Travel Area between Ireland and the UK was maintained. "Obviously it's important that though there will be difficult challenges with this that we safeguard that as much as possible and minimise the damage," he said. Mr Blair said he sees a consensus across the British political system to keep the open border arrangements between the Republic and Northern Ireland "as similar" to now.

"I think there's a real common desire, whatever issues there are in relation to Brexit, to make Northern Ireland a special case and make sure we do everything we possibly can to protect the Good Friday Agreement and peace process and to protect that strong relationship between the Republic of Ireland and the UK going forward," he said.

Mr Blair told the meeting he was delighted Emmanuel Macron had won the French presidency and not Marine Le Pen. "But the doubling of the far-Right vote compared to over a decade ago, plus the surge of support for anti-European parties across Europe, should make us all think," Mr Blair said.

Earlier, in an interview on RTE Radio's Morning Ireland, Mr Blair declined to enter the debate on the future of the leadership of the Labour Party and said it would be best for him to keep a "diplomatic silence".

Manfred Weber, chair of the EPP group, said Brexit cannot be a "win-win" for the UK.

"It will create damage. Sorry for this, but that's the reality," he said. Mr Weber added Brexit was a mistake and added: "That is what the British people will experience."

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