Former British prime ministers Tony Blair and John Major warned Thursday against the so-called Brexit, saying a vote to leave the European Union will jeopardize the unity of the United Kingdom.
If Britons vote for an exit from the EU in the June 23 referendum, it could undermine peace in Northern Ireland and bolster the Scottish independence movement, the former leaders said.
Speaking together in Northern Ireland, Blair and Major, who played important roles in the province’s peace process in the 1990s, warned that unity was effectively on the ballot paper, Reuters reported.
“Throw away the membership of Europe and don’t be surprised if in the end, as a consequence, we accidentally throw away our union as well,” Major, Conservative prime minister from 1990 to 1997, told students at the Ulster University in Londonderry.
“The most successful union in world history could be broken apart for good,” he said.
He warned that if Scotland votes to stay and the rest of the UK votes to leave, the pressure for a new referendum on Scottish independence “could prove to be uncontrollable and politically irresistible.”
Scots rejected independence by 55-45 percent in a vote in 2014 but since then the Scottish National Party has gained further strength, taking 56 of the 59 seats representing Scotland in the national parliament in London in last May’s national election, Reuters noted.
“If the UK was outside the European Union I could well envisage a different result” Major said.
Blair said the referendum could also undermine the 1998 Northern Ireland peace deal that ended three decades of conflict between Catholic Irish nationalists and their Protestant rivals.
“If we were to leave on June 23, it would put … Northern Ireland’s future at risk, it would put our union at risk, it would be deeply damaging, a reckless course,” said Blair, who oversaw the peace deal as Labour prime minister from 1997 to 2007.
Blair said the EU and free travel and trade on the island of Ireland had been an important factor in securing the peace deal in 1998 and that it would be “profoundly foolish to play any form of risk with those foundations of stability.”
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