Brexit has injected tension back into British-Irish relations, says Blair

Brexit has injected tension back into the relationship between Britain and Ireland, Tony Blair has said.

The former British prime minister, who was one of the architects of the Good Friday Agreement, said the relationship between the two countries needs to be maintained after Brexit.

“In my view, the reason we managed to achieve the Good Friday Agreement and create the circumstances of peace in Northern Ireland was because the relationship between Britain and Ireland had improved so much. And because we’re both partners in Europe,” he told the first cross-party public hearing on Brexit in the European Parliament in Brussels on Wednesday.

“One of the things that I think is really tragic about the situation is the tension it has injected back into that relationship.

“So I think, as far as we’re concerned, we have got to make it clear to people that this relationship between the Republic and the UK has got to be maintained on a basis where there is consistent, friendly relations between two sovereign countries, and in a way that keeps that border open and therefore secures the basic objectives of the Good Friday Agreement.”

Mr Blair said if a second Brexit referendum was held in the UK, it should not be tied in with a general election.

“If there isn’t a deal – and I still think it’s going to be very hard for this Government, because it’s got such an extreme view on Brexit – then I think it’s going to be hard for them to get to an agreement with the European Union.

“If it doesn’t, and we face… no deal, then in my view, it is really important that this goes back to the people in a form where the people can make up their minds on Brexit as a particular issue, and it should not be mixed up with the general election, which will be on the range of issues to do with who runs the government of the UK.”

Former Irish premier John Bruton said Boris Johnson’s “policy of progressive divergence from the EU must be called out”.

John Bruton
John Bruton (Brian Lawless/PA)

“The whole point of Brexit, according to the Prime Minister, is to divert from EU standards on environment, product and labour matters. Although it has been promoting Brexit for three years now, the UK Government has so far failed to identify which of these it wishes to diverge from,” he said.

Mr Bruton said if a no-deal Brexit takes place, checks on the Irish border will be needed.

“After the deliberate divergence has been done by the UK, far more border controls will be necessary.

“There will be no end point to the progressive divergence over time… there is no certainty as to the destination of UK proposed divergence.

“That is why the issue affecting the border and Ireland had to be settled up front before the final arrangements for the future were entered into. That is why there had to be a backstop in the withdrawal agreement, and not in any subsequent agreement.”

He said Mr Johnson “seems to want the EU legally to bind itself not to enforce its own rules and its own borders”.

“He seems to want some sort of no man’s land in the vicinity of the Irish border where no controls or checks would apply. This is an open invitation to criminal and subversive organisations who have financed themselves in the past by smuggling.

“Given that one such… organisation, attempted to murder one of Mr Johnson’s predecessors as leader of the Conservative Party, one would be forgiven for thinking that he has not studied the history of his party as closely as he ought to have.

“In the event of a no-deal Brexit, the provisions of the EU customs code adopted with UK involvement in 1992, and the fact that the Prime Minister has attempted to invite the EU to depart from that, to my mind suggests that he does not have the best interests of the European Union at heart.”

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