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The two former prime minister’s accused Mr Johnson of imperilling the Irish peace process, trade negotiations and Britain’s integrity with his UK internal trading Bill which overrides some key aspects of the Brexit Withdrawal agreement, including the Northern Ireland Protocol.
Irresponsible, wrong in principle and dangerous in practice
Tony Blair and John Major
Writing in The Sunday Times, they said: “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.
“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.”
They continued: “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.”
The former leaders weighed in to the argument as senior Conservatives refused to back down on their rebellion against Mr Johnson’s controversial Brexit legislation despite his warning Brussels could “carve up our country” without it.
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The Prime Minister’s bid to win support for the Bill was joined by Cabinet Office Minister Michael Gove warning it is needed to protect the “integrity” of the UK.
They insist the legislation that 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.
But a growing number of Tory rebels suggested opposition to the UK Internal Market Bill had stiffened after Mr Johnson’s held a conference call with backbenchers.
Tory MP Tobias Ellwood said on Saturday that “unamended I cannot support this Bill”.
Mr Ellwood, who chairs the Commons defence committee, said: “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.”
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.
He said: “He set out his case but it hasn’t changed anything that I think. I’m confident that our amendment is still getting support.”
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Damian Green, who was Theresa May’s deputy when she was prime minister and is backing the amendment, was also understood to not have been won over by Mr Johnson’s argument.
Sir Roger Gale also remained a vehement critic, telling Times Radio: “If anybody is responsible, if it happens, for bringing the union down, it will be Cummings and Mr Johnson.”
The Prime Minister spoke with around 250 MPs last night to try to secure backing for the Bill, 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 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.
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