Belfast Telegraph

Sir John Major 'dubious' over DUP deal with Theresa May - warns of need to protect Northern Ireland peace process from 'hard men' returning to streets

By Claire Williamson

Former prime minister John Major, who was one of the architects of the peace process in Northern Ireland, has expressed his concern about the DUP government deal.

Sir John Major was speaking on BBC Radio 4's programme The World At One as the DUP's Arlene Foster arrived at Downing Street for talks with Prime Minister Theresa May on a deal to prop up a Tory minority government.

The Prime Minister will be desperate to get agreement from the DUP to back her legislative programme in the House of Commons or risk her government falling.

Sir John said he was "dubious and wary" about the potential deal and said that peace process must be protected.

He highlighted the danger that the UK government will not be seen as "impartial" if it is "locked into a parliamentary deal" with one of Northern Ireland's parties.

He said: "The peace process is fragile. People shouldn't regard it as a given, it isn't certain, it is under stress, it is fragile.

"And although I don't expect it suddenly to collapse - we have to take care with it and that everything we do does not exaggerate the underlying differences that are still there in the Northern Ireland  community."

Sir John said Mrs May had his support and that he wanted her to succeed and stay as Prime Minister but that governing without the DUP was an option "well worth considering" as his "main concern" was the peace process.

He said: "A fundamental part of that peace process is that the UK government needs to be impartial between all the competing interests in Northern Ireland.

"The danger is that however much any government tries they will not be seen to be impartial if they are locked into a parliamentary deal at Westminster with one of the Northern Ireland parties.

"You never know in what unpredictable way events will turn out and we cannot know if that impartiality will be crucial at some stage in the future.

"It is very important there is an honest broker and the only one can be the UK government,

"If they cease to be seen as such, one can't be quite certain how events will unwind and that worries me a great deal."

Sir John said from the outset he sees difficulties in Northern Ireland getting the Executive back together and for issues arising during Brexit negotiations.

He added that the deal could "create friction" across the rest of the UK which "could cost votes for the Conservative party".

He said: "The reintroduction of anything that resembles a hard border will be catastrophic for the peace process and for relations between Northern Ireland and the South.

"You have to be wary of what could happen and cautious of what you do.

"With the peace process we need be prepared for the unexpected, we need to hope for the best but prepare for the worst."

He said his fear was that if one community is "aggrieved" that that would allow the "hard men lurking in the background to emerge again".

Sir John said: "The last thing anyone wishes to see is one or other communities to feel so aggrieved that the hard men who are still there lurking in the corner of the communities, decide they wish to return to some form of violence.

"We need to do everything we conceivably can to make sure that doesn't happen. And that does require an impartial UK government and that is my first but not only concern.

Sir John said governing without the DUP is an "option well worth considering".

He added: "I think that is an option that is well worth considering that doesn't carry the baggage with it for the future - that a deal with the DUP undoubtedly would carry."

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