By Enrique Rubio
London, 18 March (EFE).- As the 25th anniversary of the Belfast Good Friday agreement looms, former British prime minister Tony Blair, one of the main architects of the Northern Irish peace deal, warned that Brexit has put the whole process at risk.
“The most immediate challenge to the whole process has been Brexit, there is no way of getting away from it,” Blair told Efe in an exclusive interview with three other European agencies — DPA, AFP and ANSA — at the headquarters of the Tony Blair Institute for Global Change.
The former Labour leader warned that “now for the first time in history” the Republic of Ireland and the United Kingdom were in “a different relationship to Europe.”
The border between Northern Ireland and the Republic of Ireland is the border of the European Union (EU) and this “has put everything at risk,” he added.
“The truth is Brexit is the one thing that has put reunification back on the agenda again in a big way now,” although Blair is confident that a practical solution to trade between Britain and Northern Ireland using technology and data can work, so long as people want to make it work.
The Windsor Agreement, which was recently penned between British prime minister, Rishi Sunak, and president of the European Commission, Ursula von der Leyen, could be “the beginning of the end on these issues,” the former UK leader said, although both parties need to be prepared for debates and negotiations that will be “never-ending.”
NEED TO ADAPT
“The DUP have not changed their strategy at all,” Blair said of the Democratic Unionist Party.
“Their (DUP) strategy has always been to associate Britishness with being very dogmatic about anything that is to do with North and South and Ireland or East and West, the British and Irish government, and they supported Brexit because they are closely attached to the right wing of the conservative party.”
According to the former PM, the DUP should agree to return to a power-sharing government in Belfast with arch-rivals Sinn Féin, an Irish nationalist party, to restore a key element of the Good Friday Peace Agreement. The DUP has so far been blocking the formation of a government in Northern Ireland to protest the Northern Ireland protocol on trade.
But Sinn Féin, which garnered the most votes at the last general elections, has been able to adapt its strategy, Blair warned.
“This is a real lesson for political parties: you have got to be prepared to change strategy, you have got to be prepared to understand how things are changing and adapt. If you don’t adapt, you’re in trouble.”
Despite recent friction and challenges, the politician is steadfast that the Good Friday agreement penned on April 10, 1998, has “probably been the only successful peace process (…) in the last 25 years.”
“The negotiation was the toughest that I have done,” Blair, who was in office between 1997 and 2007, added.
When asked about the possibility of the UK rejoining the EU in the future, Blair said that this will be something a future generation will have to decide on.
“The debate of the UK is the degree to which we want to re-establish a strong relationship with Europe, which I think we should and which I believe Labour will also do,” according to Blair.
The former premier added that he can see why current Labour leader, Keir Starmer, would rather not reopen the debate which is a “divisive” subject in Britain.
“The immediate task is to fix the problems of Brexit,” Blair continued. “Because the damage is manifest, was predictable and was predicted.”
With general elections in the pipeline and to be held no later than January 2025, Blair is optimistic.
Starmer “is a very sensible guy,” and is “someone who looks like he can lead the country.”
“In the immortal words of Sir Rod Stewart, it’s time to give the other lot a go or whatever he said,” Blair said with a smile. EFE