Former Ulster Unionist leader Sir Reg Empey has accused Tony Blair of attempting to use the NI peace process to “refight” the Brexit referendum.
Lord Empey, who was one of the key negotiators at the Belfast Agreement talks, said the former prime minister’s claims that UK and Irish membership of the EU was at the heart of the Belfast Agreement “lack credibility”.
Mr Blair, who helped negotiate the Good Friday Agreement, said Britain’s decision to leave the EU was “problematic” for the peace process. And he had claimed the only alternative to a hard border after Brexit is a “bespoke” deal for NI, separate from the rest of the UK.
But Lord Empey responded: “I was at the negotiations practically every day over the course of two years and the EU was only mentioned as a source of help for Northern Ireland to rebuild after 1998.
“This the EU did and we are grateful for that. Europe was barely mentioned during the negotiations and was certainly not central to the agreement.”
Lord Empey accused Mr Blair of “jumping on the bandwagon” and attempting to use the Northern Ireland peace process as another means to “refight” the EU referendum.
“The UK government doesn’t want a hard border, the Irish government say they don’t want a hard border and the EU claim they don’t want a hard border,” he added.
“So who is going to put one up? If some people could get off their soapboxes, then we could get down to some real negotiations instead of continually trying to raise the temperature.”
Claiming that former Labour leader Mr Blair was “engaged in trying to rewrite the past”, Lord Empey continued: “If anything the greater threat to the Belfast Agreement comes from some of the despicable, dirty deals his government did with republicans on Royal pardons and OTR letters of comfort, and the contemptuous way in which his government treated victims of IRA terrorism as they attempted to get compensation from the Libyan government.”