Friday, February 23, 2024

Political stability needed to protect union, says Tony Blair

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Political stability is the best way to protect the union between Northern Ireland and Great Britain, former prime minister Tony Blair has told MPs

Mr Blair said he wanted the union to be maintained but added the “less stability there is in the system the more anxious it makes me about the future”.

Speaking to the Northern Ireland Affairs Committee, Mr Blair gave his analysis of the current political situation in Northern Ireland.

“If you want to preserve the union today the best way of doing it is to recognise that the status quo is the union, so make people comfortable with the status quo,” he said.

The Northern Ireland Assembly has not been operating since last year due to a DUP boycott over post-Brexit trading arrangements.

“My preference is that Northern Ireland remains part of the union, but it can only be that way in my view if people feel the status quo is something stable,” Mr Blair said.

“When you ask me what I think about the politics now, the important thing I think is to get over this problem of the protocol, if at all possible to get back into some agreement to reform the executive, get back into power and over time to deal with these issues.”

Mr Blair also spoke about the rise of the cross-community Alliance party and the threat it poses to unionist parties.

Alliance became the third biggest party in last year’s Assembly election, when Sinn Fein became the biggest party for the first time in Stormont history.

“The Alliance party has risen. When I was PM I don’t think there was an Alliance MP,” Mr Blair said.

“If you look at the age range of those voters, they’re probably in the middle range and they’re predominantly unionist people.

“If the status quo becomes subject to constant disruption and constant political difficulty, then that middle-aged bulge that’s with Alliance at the moment, there’s going to be another one coming in the younger generation and then things are going to get more difficult for the union.”

Former prime minister Tony Blair said less stability at Stormont makes him anxious for the future of the union (Jonathan Brady/PA)

After stating that he was a unionist and would prefer for Northern Ireland to stay in the union Mr Blair said: “The less stability there is in the system the more anxious it makes me about the future.”

The former PM also spoke of the unionist outlook on compromise.

“I completely understand where unionism comes from. I was brought up in a unionist household and I understand that the fear of unionism is that everything is a slippery slope,” Mr Blair said.

“If you accept the types of compromises that are in the Good Friday Agreement, if you accept British Irish relationships, if you accept north south relationships, you’re basically always sliding towards that United Ireland.

“That strategy I don’t think has changed over the years.”

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