Sir Tony Blair today hailed Rishi Sunak’s Brexit deal as the “most practical way forward” for Northern Ireland. The former prime minister, who campaigned for Remain and a second referendum, was giving evidence to the Northern Ireland Affairs Committee.
It comes as the PM’s Windsor Framework faces its first Commons test next Wednesday when MPs will be given a vote on a key part of it – with a senior European Research Group source revealing to the Express that members of the group of Tory Brexiteers could reject it.
Sir Tony, who was in office when the Good Friday Agreement was signed and the Northern Ireland Assembly was established in 1998, told the committee the new agreement between the UK and the EU was the best that could be done after years of tensions over the Northern Ireland Protocol.
The former premier was asked by DUP MP Jim Shannon about how the Good Friday Agreement relates to the Windsor Framework.
He said: “My reason for supporting what this Prime Minister has done on the Windsor agreement is that I think it represents the most practical way forward that minimises all the theoretical objections.
“The problem is we’re trying to reconcile the inevitable different elements that come from Brexit and its impact on Northern Ireland.
“It was always going to be a difficult circle to square and the protocol and the Windsor agreement is an attempt to square it.”
Prime Minister Rishi Sunak and EU Commission president Ursula von der Leyen unveiled the new framework last month to replace the Northern Ireland Protocol.
The protocol was designed to avoid a hard Irish border but unionists have been angered as it has created trade barriers between Northern Ireland and Great Britain.
The DUP collapsed the Stormont powersharing institutions in protest at the protocol.
The party has set up a panel to study the Brexit deal against its seven tests before reaching a collective conclusion.
Sir Tony said the agreement seeks to improve on areas the DUP have objected to, notably in relation 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.”
Mr Shannon asked Sir Tony about the need for unionist support in the implementation of the Windsor Framework.
Sir Tony said: “Unionism has got to be part of the process.
“The whole basis of the agreement is that the different elements of politics in Northern Ireland come together and that cross-community working together is the essence of the agreement.
“As a matter of principle, unionism has got to be involved, otherwise it won’t work.”
Mr Shannon said: “I appreciate your answer but we want to make sure the Windsor Framework does not become the Windsor knot.”