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DUP raps Blair and Major's 'scaremongering' over peace

By Suzanne Breen

DUP MP Sammy Wilson is calling on former Prime Ministers Tony Blair and John Major to "dial down the rhetoric" about Brexit's possible repercussions on the Northern Ireland peace process.

Mr Wilson said the pain of leaving the EU was obviously still raw for some, but a line had to be drawn when a "has-been" politician like Mr Blair "used the Troubles situation in Northern Ireland" for his own ends.

The East Antrim MP was speaking after Mr Blair described it as sickening that some appeared ready "to sacrifice peace in Northern Ireland on the altar of Brexit".

Earlier this week Mr Major voiced his concerns about Brexit's effect on the "still fragile peace process" and called for a free vote in Parliament on whether to hold a second EU referendum.

In response to the former Prime Ministers' warnings, Mr Wilson said: "They should be ashamed of themselves for using the hard-won relative peace in Northern Ireland to attempt to overthrow Brexit plans.

"Yet again Tony Blair and John Major have used scaremongering tactics. It is time for them to dial down their rhetoric."

Mr Wilson continued: "Today the Northern Ireland-related terrorist threat level has been reduced in Great Britain. It's time Tony Blair realised that while dissident republicans still try to disrupt Northern Ireland, their campaign is not because of Brexit. A former Prime Minister playing to the crowd and fighting for relevance is no reason to trot out dangerous language."

Mr Blair yesterday urged EU leaders to work to stop Brexit - warning them that the UK could act as a focus for further disunity in the bloc if it leaves.

He said Brexit would damage the British and European economies and weaken the EU's "standing and power" on the world stage. He called for reform - particularly to deal with immigration concerns - as a way of persuading British voters to reverse Brexit.

In a speech in Brussels, Mr Blair said: "Britain out of Europe will ultimately be a focal point of disunity, when the requirement for unity is so manifest."

Theresa May is due to make a major speech on Brexit in the House of Commons today.

The Prime Minister met European Council President Donald Tusk yesterday for a working lunch in Downing Street where she briefed him on her address.

He urged her to come up with a plan to prevent a hard border on the island of Ireland.

On Wednesday the Prime Minister rejected an EU draft agreement suggesting Northern Ireland might remain in the customs union. Unionists see this proposal as creating a border in the Irish Sea.

The UUP yesterday said it had written to Mrs May supporting her "strong stance in defence of the UK's constitutional and territorial integrity" and urging her not to change position.

"Access to the markets of the EU is important but for the people of Northern Ireland, our access to the UK domestic single market is of paramount importance," the party said.

Meanwhile, SDLP MLA Claire Hanna urged the Government to set out "a serious alternative" to the EU's proposal.

"John Major has pointed out that almost everything the Brexiteers have claimed has turned out to be wrong," Ms Hanna said.

"Instead of rubbishing detractors, it is vital that in her Brexit speech Theresa May sets out her answers in specific, evidenced detail. It's time for answers, the Brexiteers and the British Government have had enough breathing space.

"It is people here who stand to lose most from a hard Brexit, particularly without an Assembly in place. It is time for Theresa May to put her cards on the table. The stakes are too high to continue this endless drift."

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