Brexit supporters including Arlene Foster have reacted forcefully to a visit to Northern Ireland by two former prime ministers.
The First Minister said that things were getting “pretty desperate in the Remain campaign” when people “from the past in politics” such as John Major and Tony Blair were coming to Northern Ireland to warn about the risks to the Province from Brexit.
Mrs Foster said: “I’m very confident that the people of Northern Ireland, in their own minds, will make the right decision and they will vote how they see fit and not how others see fit, from the past.”
Speaking outside the Women In Business Chairs’ Lunch in Belfast, Mrs Foster added: “It’s all very well to talk about constitutional uncertainty in the United Kingdom but when we’re handing away our sovereignty to Brussels all of the time, people need to reflect on that, and I do find it rather disgraceful for two prime ministers, who know full well the importance of the peace process here in Northern Ireland, to come over here and suggest that a vote in a particular direction is going to undermine that.”
The DUP leader continued: “It’s quite scandalous, because frankly some of us who live here and are committed to Northern Ireland and who want to make Stormont work for everybody are dedicated to that and are very much working in a very determined way to make that happen, and I think it is rather sad that people from the past in politics should come over here and try to destabilise Northern Ireland.”
Mrs Foster’s DUP deputy Nigel Dodds, who is also firmly in favour of Brexit, condemned Tony Blair’s suggestion that the peace process will be at risk as “irresponsible nonsense”.
At Westminster, the North Belfast MP called for a debate “to allow us time to debunk the nonsense being spoken today by the former prime minister Tony Blair about the peace process and the political process in Northern Ireland being under threat if we vote to leave the European Union”.
During the business statement in the House of Commons, Mr Dodds added: “Surely this is the most irresponsible talk that can be perpetuated in terms of Northern Ireland – very dangerous, destabilising and it should not be happening.”
Mr Dodds also told BBC Radio 4’s World At One that the two ex-premiers were engaging in “scaremongering”.
“I think it’s deeply disappointing. They know that the peace process in Northern Ireland has never been more stable.
“They are devaluing their own legacy.”
There was further fierce criticism of Mr Major and Mr Blair from the Northern Ireland-born politician Kate Hoey, who said: “John Major and Tony Blair have joined a list of yesterday’s politicians determined to spread fear in Northern Ireland.”
Ms Hoey, who is MP for Vauxhall, is one of the most outspoken Labour Party politicians in favour of Brexit.