Abandoning NI protocol would be a 'grave mistake' – Blair

Former British prime minister Tony Blair said any suggestion of the British government unilaterally setting aside the Brexit deal is unthinkable
Abandoning NI protocol would be a 'grave mistake' – Blair

Former British prime minister Tony Blair: 'Once the border of the EU became the border between north and south, it was always going to be difficult.'

The neglect of the Good Friday Agreement has led to the re-emergence of tensions in the North, and only intensive efforts will be enough to solve the crisis, former British prime minister Tony Blair has warned.

Speaking alongside former taoiseach Bertie Ahern at an event in Dublin, Mr Blair urged Boris Johnson to negotiate the details on the Brexit protocol to make it work.

He said any suggestion of the British government unilaterally setting aside the Brexit deal is unthinkable.

“The Northern Ireland Protocol, I mean it was negotiated by the same people who are now questioning it. It is not an inherited agreement,” Mr Blair told the International Institute of European Affairs event.

Unionists are increasingly calling on the British government to abandon the Northern Ireland Protocol.

He added the problems arising from the protocol were obvious, even while negotiations were going on late last year.

“I don’t see how we can do that. We entered into an agreement. I mean, it would get a very negative reaction. I think it would be a grave mistake to do that,” Mr Blair said.

Taoiseach Bertie Ahern (right) and British prime minister Tony Blair, at Castle Buildings Belfast, signing the Good Friday Agreement in April 1998. Picture: RollingNews.ie
Taoiseach Bertie Ahern (right) and British prime minister Tony Blair, at Castle Buildings Belfast, signing the Good Friday Agreement in April 1998. Picture: RollingNews.ie

Mr Blair, who was prime minister from 1997 until 2007, was a key architect of the 1998 Good Friday Agreement on the North.

“If you want to protect the Good Friday Agreement, you have to work it hard and give it time and the prime minister and the whole of government must do that and not just the secretary of state,” he said.

A lot of people don’t remember what the Troubles were like. It was a very difficult situation for years and years. That is now a distant memory. 

"The risk always is that politicians take the Good Friday Agreement for granted and of course there are issues which remain to be resolved.” 

Border poll

In his contribution, Mr Ahern said a lot of work had to be done before there could be any question of a border poll on the future of partition in Ireland.

He said the Good Friday Agreement had been designed to be flexible and could be “tweaked or added to” – but there was no question of Brexit setting it aside.

Mr Blair said while major progress has been made, significant issues remain.

“There is segregation, less than 10% of children go to mixed schools, those issues can always rise to the surface. The problem with the protocol, it is an inevitable consequence of Britain leaving Europe, the customs union and the single market. Once the border of the EU became the border between north and south, it was always going to be difficult,” Mr Blair said.

Inter-government council

Mr Ahern called on the two governments to revitalise the inter-government council, established under the Good Friday Agreement as a means of improving relations post Brexit.

Mr Blair concurred, saying the joint council was a fundamental part of the 1998 historic agreement and is needed if the rise in tensions currently is to be combated. 

Meanwhile, the new DUP leader Edwin Poots has said the Northern Ireland Protocol needs to be removed as it's "hugely damaging to all of the people of Northern Ireland". 

He urged the Irish Government to use "common sense" and draw back from the position it has adopted. Mr Poots said he does not mean there should be flexibilities and mitigations "as flexibilities and mitigations don't cut it".

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