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Tony Blair 'jumping on the bandwagon' with peace process Brexit fears

By Adrian Rutherford

Tony Blair has been criticised after claiming the Good Friday Agreement is at risk because of Brexit.

The former PM said UK and Irish membership of the EU was "central" to the deal, and that free movement over the border had been a key factor in reaching a consensus.

However, one of the main negotiators at the 1998 talks, Ulster Unionist peer Lord Empey, said Mr Blair's comments "lacked credibility".

"I was at the negotiations practically every day over the course of two years and the EU was only mentioned as a source of help for Northern Ireland to rebuild after 1998. This the EU did and we are grateful for that," he said.

"Europe was barely mentioned during the negotiations and was certainly not central to the Agreement.

"Unfortunately, like others, Tony Blair is now jumping on the bandwagon and attempting to use the Northern Ireland peace process as another means to refight the EU referendum."

Mr Blair, who helped negotiate the Good Friday Agreement, had told BBC Radio 4's The World At One that the UK's decision to leave the EU was "problematic" for the peace process.

"One of the elements that was central to the Good Friday Agreement was that because the UK and the Republic of Ireland were both in the Europe Union it was easy to have arrangements which gave expression to the nationalist feelings in the North," he added.

"Free movement of people, free movement of goods, an open border was one part of that expression that the island of Ireland was together, even though strictly and constitutionally one part was in the UK, one part was in the Republic of Ireland.

"If you end up with a hard border, obviously that causes tensions. It doesn't mean that you should abandon the Good Friday Agreement, but it poses real challenges to it."

Mr Blair's intervention came as Sinn Fein MLA Declan Kearney warned that "Brexit, Tory austerity and the DUP's denial of rights" had combined to leave the Good Friday Agreement facing its most serious threat yet.

"The British Government and DUP alliance is based upon a unionist agenda defined in terms of support for Brexit, austerity and opposition to a rights-based framework for government," Mr Kearney said.

"They have created the current crisis and, as a result, the entire basis of the Good Friday Agreement is now faced with its most serious threat in the history of the peace process."

Meanwhile, Mr Blair has said the EU cannot allow the continued free flow of goods across the border if Britain is outside the single market and the customs union.

He said the UK could, if it chooses, permit the free movement of people between Northern Ireland and the Republic to continue - although it would make a "nonsense" of the argument Britain was leaving to take back control of its borders.

However, he said it would be a different matter as far as Brussels was concerned when it came to goods and services.

The only alternative, he said, was a "bespoke" deal specifically for Northern Ireland, separate from the rest of the UK.

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