Belfast Telegraph

Power-sharing in Northern Ireland still possible, but Brexit poses risks, says Tony Blair

By Jane Scott

Former Prime Minister Tony Blair has said he believes Theresa May can still broker a deal to restore the Stormont Assembly.

In an interview with the BBC marking 20 years since the Good Friday Agreement, he also warned of the dangers of putting the peace deal that was achieved at risk.

Mr Blair worked alongside then Taoiseach Bertie Ahern and US special envoy to Northern Ireland George Mitchell to help broker the deal that largely brought the Troubles to an end.

Speaking yesterday, he said a solution to the current political deadlock at Stormont can be found. "I can't believe it's not possible to find a way round it. It's very similar to the types of issues we used to deal with. You've just got to keep working at them until you find a way through," he said.

While Mrs May has been criticised for taking a "hands off" approach to Northern Ireland, Mr Blair said he thinks she can still make progress.

"I'm sure she can do it because, to be fair to her, I'm sure she wants to keep the Good Friday Agreement and she wants to make sure it works satisfactorily, but I do think it's important to realise there were points of time certainly in that 10 years," he said.

"Remember, we went through setting up the new Northern Ireland police service, decommissioning, Drumcree... there were all those things happening and at a certain point the authority of the Prime Minister is necessary in order to get people to move and to come into some form of alignment. I think it's constant work."

Mr Blair also warned that the UK must work hard towards overcoming both the immediate challenges and future consequences of Brexit, particularly over the border issue.

While the former Labour leader doesn't believe Brexit could potentially reignite violence, he said: "If what it does is provide significant disruption to that idea at the heart of the Good Friday Agreement, that of the recognition of nationalist aspirations, if it disrupts that because the border becomes a hard border and you have some sort of border checks and freedom of movement becomes more difficult, then it's got the potential to cause tension.

"That shouldn't ever justify or end up in violence, but it will give a different complexion to the nationalist aspirations," he said.

Mr Blair also voiced concern at recent tensions in Anglo-Irish relations over Brexit. He added: "My only point about this is not going over the top and saying: 'If we do Brexit we're going to scrap the Good Friday Agreement and (there's) going to be a return to conflict'. I'm simply saying that it's going to pose a big challenge and it's going to mean this Government is going to have to work very hard to overcome that challenge, not just the immediate challenge of Brexit, but the consequences of that as they reverberate in the years ahead."

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