Belfast Telegraph

Tony Blair and John Major warn Boris Johnson's Brexit deal is threat to peace in Northern Ireland

Gareth Cross

By Gareth Cross

Former Prime Ministers Tony Blair and John Major have said that Boris Johnson's Brexit deal is a threat to peace in Northern Ireland.

The pair urged MPs to reject the deal by voting against it during a special sitting of Parliament on Saturday.

Mr Blair accused Mr Johnson of being willing to risk peace to deliver Brexit by creating a border in the Irish Sea.

Former Conservative leader Sir John said he was "astonished" that his party would try and force through proposals which put the "integrity of the UK at risk".

Sir John backed the DUP's decision to reject the PM's deal and said that their fears "need to be addressed and assuaged".

Both men played a large role in the Northern Ireland peace process, with Sir John Major being Prime Minister at the time of the Downing Street Declaration and the 1994 IRA ceasefire.

Former Labour leader Mr Blair was Prime Minister at the signing of the Good Friday Agreement in 1998. He is considered one of the architects of the agreement.

The former Prime Ministers made the comments in a video for the People's Vote campaign to be broadcast at the Together for the Final Say march on Friday.

Both men supported Remain in the 2016 EU referendum and have campaigned for a People's Vote on the UK's relationship with Europe.

In the video, Mr Blair said the Good Friday Agreement carefully managed the "conflicting aspirations of unionists and nationalists".

Prime Minister Tony Blair and Taoiseach Bertie Ahern sign the Good Friday Agreement
Prime Minister Tony Blair and Taoiseach Bertie Ahern sign the Good Friday Agreement

“Now either there is a hard border between Northern Ireland and Britain or a hard border between the north and south of Ireland. And it is a shame and an outrage that peace in Northern Ireland is now treated as some disposable inconvenience to be bartered away in exchange for satisfying the obsession of the Brexiteers with wrenching our country out of Europe," the former Labour leader said.

“Either Northern Ireland and its hard-won peace is sacrificed on the Brexit altar. Or we end up in the bizarre situation where Northern Ireland stays in Europe’s trading system and Great Britain leaves with a Hard Brexit which itself requires years more of Brexit negotiations and distraction from the real issues facing the country.”

Sir John said that Brexit risked "dividing a United Kingdom that has been together for a very long time".

"It is a throughly bad idea," he said.

The former Conservative leader said he "found it difficult to understand" the actions of his party.

"I cannot imagine any previous generation of Conservatives putting at risk the union in the way that has now happened,” he said.

Sir John said that a whole generation of people in Northern Ireland had no memory of violence and death before the Good Friday Agreement and that he hoped "they never do".

He said that he understood the DUP's opposition to the Prime Minister's deal.

The DUP oppose the deal due to concerns around customs, VAT and consent of Northern Ireland's politicians on the future relationship with the EU.

"It seems to me the agreement that has been reached is not materially better in any serious way than the agreement that Theresa May reached, which was rejected by precisely the people who are now promoting this particular agreement," Sir John said.

"A border down the Irish Sea also has many difficulties. It splits Northern Ireland from the rest of the United Kingdom. And that, of course, always plays on the inherent fears of Northern Ireland, that they're being ignored, that they're being maltreated. And those fears are very real. And they need to be addressed and they need to be assuaged.”

Sir John said that a People's Vote would give a say to people in Northern Ireland who do not wish to return to the past.

John Hume (right) with fellow peace deal broker David Trimble
John Hume (right) with fellow peace deal broker David Trimble

"Now they are old enough wish to express their views in a referendum as to the future of their country and their prospects and their life,”he said.

The views of Sir John and Mr Blair are at odds with former UUP leader David Trimble who was awarded a Nobel Peace Prize alongside SDLP leader John Hume for his role in the Good Friday Agreement.

Lord Trimble said that the deal was a "great step forward" and within the spirit of the Good Friday Agreement.

"Whilst, previously, the people of Northern Ireland were to have an agreement imposed on them, now we have a mechanism for the consent of the people of Northern Ireland," he said.

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