Former PMs Blair and Major warn Brexit would threaten UK unity

Updated June 10, 2016

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LONDONDERRY: Former British prime ministers John Major and Tony Blair share a platform for the Remain campaign at the University of Ulster in Northern Ireland on Thursday.—AP
LONDONDERRY: Former British prime ministers John Major and Tony Blair share a platform for the Remain campaign at the University of Ulster in Northern Ireland on Thursday.—AP

TONY Blair and John Major warned on Thursday a vote to leave the European Union on June 23 would jeopardise the unity of the United Kingdom by undermining peace in Northern Ireland and bolstering the Scottish independence movement.

Speaking together in Northern Ireland, the two former British prime ministers, who both played important roles in the province’s peace process in the 1990s, warned that unity was effectively on the ballot paper. “Throw away the membership of Europe and don’t be surprised if in the end, as a consequence, we accidentally throw away our union as well,” Major, Conservative prime minister from 1990 to 1997, told students at the Ulster University in Londonderry.

“The most successful union in world history could be broken apart for good,” he said. Major warned that if Scotland votes to stay and the rest of the United Kingdom votes to leave, the pressure for a new referendum on Scottish independence “could prove to be uncontrollable and politically irresistible”.

Blair said the referendum could also undermine the 1998 Northern Ireland peace deal that ended three decades of killings between Catholic Irish nationalists who wanted the province to unite with Ireland and their Protestant rivals who wanted to keep it in the United Kingdom.

“If we were to leave on June 23, it would put Northern Ireland’s future at risk, it would put our union at risk, it would be deeply damaging, a reckless course,” said Blair, who oversaw the peace deal as Labour prime minister from 1997 to 2007.

Published in Dawn, June 10th, 2016