Tony Blair warns of Brexit 'risk' to Good Friday Agreement

Posted On: 
3rd December 2017

The Brexit wrangling over the Irish border is a "risk" to the Good Friday Agreement, Tony Blair has warned.

Tony Blair addressing a conference on Brexit in Ireland earlier this year
Credit: 
PA

The former prime minister, who negotiated the deal with Northern Ireland's political parties in 1997, said the problems presented by the UK leaving the EU were "self-evident".

The Government could choose to allow continued free movement of people from the Republic into Northern Ireland, but that would "make a nonsense" of leave campaigners' promises to control immigration, he said.

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Elsewhere the Irish foreign minister made clear that his government would not allow a hard border on the island of Ireland.

"We cannot allow some kind of collateral damage or unintended consequence of Brexit to have the recreation of a border," Simon Coveney told the BBC's Andrew Marr Show.

The EU has already told Dublin it will be able to use its veto to stop Brexit negotiations moving on to the future trading relationship if it does not feel the border issue has been properly addressed.

Mr Blair suggested his work of 20 years ago could be undone by the fallout from Brexit, because it will be the first time in modern history the UK and Ireland would have different customs and border arrangements.

"The Good Friday agreement is not under threat in the sense that everyone says they want to keep it, but it is at risk because of Brexit because the Republic of Ireland and the UK have always in history been in the same relationship to the EU," he told BBC Radio 4's The World This Weekend. 

"We were out of it then we joined it at exactly the same time. For the first time we're going to be in a different relationship. The UK will be outside of Europe, the Republic of Ireland will be inside Europe. 

"That necessarily means that that border between north and south will become the border between the UK and the European Union. The difficulties of this are self-evident.

"So, by the way the Government can deal with the freedom of movement of people - because there's been free movement of people for 100 years between north and south, by simply saying we're going to agree to continue it. If you do that, of course it makes a nonsense of your claim to be getting out of the European Union so you can restrict people coming from Europe into our country."

'PROBLEMATIC'

Mr Blair stopped short of saying the GFA was under threat from Brexit, but warned it faced "real challenges" due to the border issue.

"It's problematic for the peace process if you can put it like this, in this sense, that one of the elements that's central to the Good Friday Agreement...was that because the UK and the Republic of Ireland were both in the European Union it was easy, as it were, to have arrangements which gave expression, if you like, to the nationalist feelings in the north and free movement of people, free movement of goods, an open border was one part of that express and the island of Ireland was together even though strictly, 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."