Brexit was 'always a strange choice for unionists' says Tony Blair as he declares that unionism will probably never shake off its sense of existential angst

​Tony Blair has said that opting for Brexit was an odd move for unionists to choose, given that it would “plainly” have implications for the Irish border.
Watch more of our videos on Shots! 
and live on Freeview channel 276
Visit Shots! now

​The former Labour Prime Minister – now Sir Tony – also urged the resumption of power-sharing government at Stormont, indicating that instability is the chief threat to unionism in the Province.

He also told MPs that unionism is probably never going to be able to shake off the existential sense of fear which he says has always been one of its features.

Hide Ad
Hide Ad

Sir Tony was giving evidence before the cross-party Northern Ireland Affairs committee of the House of Commons, on the Belfast / Good Friday Agreement and how it is functioning today.

Early on in the session he stressed his pro-Union beliefs, saying that he grew up “very much in a unionist household” where his grandmother would say things like “there's a great beacon of hope in Northern Ireland, and his name is Ian Paisley”.

He told MPs that “at one level it was always strange for unionism, or any part of unionism, to support Brexit, because it would plainly put the issues of Northern Ireland in a difficult context”.

He noted too that “a lot of people in my old constituency voted Brexit; some people thought, mistakenly in my view, that the more British thing to do was to vote Brexit”.

Hide Ad
Hide Ad

But he said that, with the Windsor Framework, the EU has now made compromises which try to address unionist concerns, finding “a practical way of squaring a circle” and “trying to reconcile the inevitable different elements that come from Brexit and its impact on Northern Ireland”.

Tony Blair speaking in the NI Affairs Committee, 16-03-23Tony Blair speaking in the NI Affairs Committee, 16-03-23
Tony Blair speaking in the NI Affairs Committee, 16-03-23

As such, “I honestly feel the best thing now is to get back into a stable form of government”.

When it comes to checks on goods, he said: “It doesn’t remove them but it means that they’re going to, in most circumstances, be practically insignificant.

"That is honestly the best I think you can do with this. The realism is that there is no real answer to this problem.”

Hide Ad
Hide Ad

He stressed that the lack of a government, and the ongoing crisis this spells, is “contrary to the best interests of unionism”.

"The point is if you want to preserve the Union today, the best way of doing it is to recognise the status quo is the Union,” he said.

"So make people comfortable with the status quo.

"But if the status quo becomes subject to constant disruption, constant political difficulty... things are going to get more difficult for the Union.”

He also told MPs: "I understand that the fear of unionism is everything is a slippery slope, right?

Hide Ad
Hide Ad

“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, you're always going to be sliding towards that united Ireland.

“And that strategy I don't think has really changed over the years if I'm blunt about it…

"I understand unionism will always feel that it's at risk to some degree. How could you not, because of the circumstances of the situation?

"In exactly the same way I think unionism will always be in part distrustful of a UK government... there's never going to be a situation where there isn't that distrust.”