Belfast Telegraph

Irish border issue can disrupt exit, says ex-Blair aide

BY SHONA MURRAY

Tony Blair's former chief of staff says Brexit can be stopped and the Irish border can be the catalyst.

Jonathan Powell was the Government's chief negotiator on Northern Ireland during the Good Friday Agreement.

He now says it is impossible for Prime Minister Theresa May to fulfil all of her red lines regarding Brexit which include leaving the customs union and single market.

These are incompatible with Britain's legal obligation to the Good Friday Agreement which ensures there is no border between Northern Ireland and the Republic and north-south co-operation is fully protected.

Mr Powell was speaking as the 20th anniversary of the Good Friday Agreement approaches.

He said: "There's every chance to stop Brexit and I think it's the Northern Irish border that will trip the whole thing over."

He says if Dublin and Brussels stick to their guns about insisting there are no hard borders after Brexit, and as a result refuse to sign off on a withdrawal treaty if the British won't stay in a customs union and single market, then Mrs May will be left with no option but to stay in the EU.

"Otherwise the UK will crash out and chaos will ensue for the country's economy, as well as on citizens rights and the border.

"It would almost certainly involve the immediate imposition of tariffs across a range of sectors especially on British farmers, who would face charges for exporting to the EU.

"If the EU and Republic of Ireland really mean what they say about not having a hard border; I don't actually see a way of resolving that apart from staying in the customs union and single market which Theresa May says is not going to happen.

"We'll get to October and if we don't get an exit agreement and we're in a crisis because we're then leaving with no agreement. Or we'll have to stay."

Mr Powell believes when the public as well as most MPs realise what may unfold, they will demand another referendum.

Belfast Telegraph

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