Two former British prime ministers, John Major and Tony Blair, have warned that a vote to leave the EU would be a “historic mistake” which could threaten Northern Ireland’s hard-fought peace process.
The former adversaries shared a platform at the Ulster University’s Magee campus in Derry, and warned that Brexit could lead to the break-up of the UK.
Mr Major warned that the “wrong outcome on June 23 could “tear apart the UK”. He added: “If we throw the pieces of the constitutional jigsaw up in to the air, no one can be certain where they might land.”
Mr Blair hit out at the Leave campaign, claiming it puts an “ideological fixation” with Brexit ahead of the damage it would cause. I say, don’t take a punt on these people. Don’t let them take risks with Northern Ireland’s future. Don’t let them undermine our United Kingdom.”
He also spoke of the potential damage to British-Irish relations if the UK withdrew from Europe.
Mr Blair made a connection between Britain’s membership of the EU, and its relationship with Ireland.
“Of course there are differences that remain but I remember being the first [British] prime minister to go and address the Dáil. I remember working closely with Bertie Ahern to bring about the Good Friday Agreement...
“We did it by working together.
We came together as two countries, not just as politicians negotiating that agreement, and we did so with the very spirit that I think is the very spirit that should inform our thinking when we come to decide this question on Europe.
“Because, for all its faults, it represents, since my father’s generation, an enormous coming together of people, a belief that in working together we can advance our individual interests in a more profound and more effective way.
“And the very spirit that brought us together in making peace in Northern Ireland is the very spirit that we need to reflect upon as we come to make this decision.
“It is a sizeable decision. It is a decision of immense importance to the whole of the country and I think it is of particular importance to the people of Northern Ireland.”
Both former leaders had integral roles in the peace process. In 1993, Taoiseach Albert Reynolds and prime minister John Major delivered the Downing Street Declaration which argued for self-determination on the basis of consent, and paved the way for the IRA ceasefires the following year.
Five years later, in 1998, the British and Irish governments concluded the historic Good Friday Agreement which laid the foundations for the devolved power-sharing Stormont Executive.
Meanwhile, former US president Bill Clinton, whose 1995 visit was seen as a crucial moment in the peace process, said he was worried about the potential impact of Brexit on the province.
Writing in the New Statesman magazine, Mr Clinton said: “I was honoured to support the peace process in Northern Ireland. It has benefited from the UK’s membership in the European Union, and I worry that the future prosperity and peace of Northern Ireland could be jeopardised if Britain withdraws.”
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