Thursday, 1 Oct 2020

Tony Blair and John Major say Boris is 'shaming' UK with Brexit deal changes

Two former prime ministers have condemned Boris Johnson’s Brexit plan over fears it could endanger the Irish peace process, trade negotiations and the UK’s integrity.  

Conservative Sir John Major and Labour’s Tony Blair have united to warn that the PM’s bid to push through a Bill that overrides parts of his own divorce deal — which the Government admits could break international law — put the Good Friday Agreement ‘at risk’.

It comes amid a growing rebellion among Tory MPs against the plan. 

Sir John and Mr Blair wrote in a joint article for The Sunday Times: ‘This has wide-ranging ramifications. It will not only make negotiation with the EU more difficult, but also any trade negotiations with other nations, including the United States. Once trust is undermined, distrust becomes prevalent.

‘We both opposed Brexit. We both accept it is now happening. But this way of negotiating, with reason cast aside in pursuit of ideology and cavalier bombast posing as serious diplomacy, is irresponsible, wrong in principle and dangerous in practice.

‘It raises questions that go far beyond the impact on Ireland, the peace process and negotiations for a trade deal – crucial though they are. It questions the very integrity of our nation.’

On Ireland, the two former PMs added: ‘It puts the Good Friday Agreement at risk, because it negates the predictability, political stability and legal clarity that are integral to the delicate balance between the north and south of Ireland that is at the core of the peace process.’

Meanwhile, senior Conservatives are not backing down in their rebellion against Mr Johnson’s controversial Brexit legislation despite his warning Brussels could ‘carve up our country’ without it.

Cabinet Office Minister Michael Gove warned it is needed to protect the ‘integrity’ of the UK.

The Government admitted that its plan could breach international law and has prompted the EU to threaten legal action during trade negotiations is needed to prevent a trade border in the Irish Sea.

Tory rebels suggested that opinions were only hardened by a conference call between backbenchers and the PM – suggesting support was growing for their amendment to the UK Internal Market Bill.

Tobias Ellwood, the Conservative who chairs the Commons defence committee, said on Saturday that ‘unamended I cannot support this Bill’.

He tweeted: ‘Already this Bill is damaging brand UK, diminishing our role-model status as defender of global standards. As we go to the wire, let’s see more British statecraft – less Nixonian Madman Theory.’

Sir Roger Gale also remains an outspoken critic, telling Times Radio: ‘If anybody is responsible, if it happens, for bringing the union down, it will be (chief aide Dominic) Cummings and Mr Johnson.’

Commons justice committee chairman Sir Bob Neill, who has tabled an amendment which he said would impose a ‘parliamentary lock’ on any changes to the Withdrawal Agreement, said he still contends it contains ‘objectionable’ elements.

‘I believe it is potentially a harmful act for this country, it would damage our reputation and I think it will make it harder to strike trade deals going forward,’ he told Channel 4 News.

The Prime Minister spoke with around 250 MPs on Friday to try to drum up support, and warned them against a return to the ‘miserable, squabbling days of last autumn’ over Brexit.

And, in an incendiary article for The Telegraph, Mr Johnson said Brussels was threatening to use an ‘extreme interpretation’ of the Northern Ireland Protocol to impose ‘a full-scale trade border down the Irish Sea’ that could stop the transport of food from Britain to Northern Ireland.

Both Ireland and the EU have warned that Mr Johnson’s plans pose a serious risk to the peace process rather than protecting the Good Friday Agreement.

But he doubled down and argued it is ‘crucial for peace and for the Union itself’ and said voting the Bill down would reduce the chances of a trade deal with the EU, which is hanging in the balance.

He asked MPs to help him ‘remove this danger to the very fabric’ of the UK by taking away ‘the theoretical power to carve up our country’, ahead of a Commons debate on Monday.

Conservative former leaders Mrs May, Sir John and Lord Howard are among the Tories urging Mr Johnson to think again over the legislation.

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