Tony Blair warns growing UK-Ireland tensions could scupper Brexit talks

The former prime minister, who was an architect of the Good Friday Agreement, said both parties would continue to disagree unless all areas of the peace pact are respected. Speaking at a European Parliament conference, he said guaranteeing stability on the island of Ireland would continue to be a sticking point for negotiators. Addressing MEPs via a video-link, Mr Blair added the best method of protecting the peace agreement is through the EU’s single market and customs union.

He said: “One of the tragedies of Brexit in my view is that a 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.

“And one of the things I think is really tragic about this situation is the tension it’s injected back into that relationship.

“As far as we’re concerned we’ve just got to make it clear to people this relationship between the Republic and the UK has got to be maintained on a basis that’s consistent with 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 he thinks it will be “very hard” for Boris Johnson to deliver a compromise deal because the Prime Minister has “such an extreme view on Brexit”.

“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, I think it’s going to be hard for them to get to an agreement with the EU.” he said.

“If it doesn’t and we face the prospect of no deal then in my view again it’s really important 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 shouldn’t be mixed up with a general election which will be on the range of issues to do with who runs the government of the UK.”

Former Irish prime minister John Bruton suggested there are questions surrounding Mr Johnson’s intention.

He also queried whether the Prime Minister understands Conservative party history, claiming his plan would aide the IRA, who once tried to murder Margaret Thatcher.

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Mr Bruton asked the audience: “Does Prime Minister Johnson want to break up the single market? Is that what he really wants?”

“He seems to want the EU legally to bind itself not to enforce its own rules at its own borders,” he added.

“He thus 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 smuggling financed criminal 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 done.”

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Technical talks to replace the controversial Northern Ireland backstop in Brussels have hit a stumbling block.

EU officials believe Downing Street appears to be rowing back on a previous offer to agree an all-Ireland agri-food zone in the hope of avoiding checks on the border.

The plan was seen as the potential basis for new negotiations but Mr Johnson’s refusal to fully align Northern Ireland to the EU’s agri-food rules could scupper any hope of a deal.

Michel Barnier, the EU’s chief negotiator, has questioned whether the Prime Minister is capable of delivering an alternative to the backstop.

Speaking in Berlin, the Brussels bureaucrat said: “The real question today is: does the UK have an equally effective operational alternative? If so, we will examine it.

“I see no particular reason for optimism today, but work will continue at a technical level and a political level.”

EU sources have warned that Leo Varadkar will have to sign up to any compromise deal before it can be agreed with the UK.

Leaders believe that Mr Johnson is only seeking to “manage the border” instead of his predecessor Theresa May’s pledge to maintain a “frictionless border”.

“Leo Varadkar will have to sign up to a deal that implies he is agreeing to a new border in Ireland,” a source said.

“If he does then other European leaders will go along with it. But can he do that? Is that what Johnson expects him to concede?”

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