Lord Trimble backs Brexit deal as John Major and Tony Blair claim it threatens peace

Former UUP leader Lord David Trimble supports Boris Johnson's Brexit deal. Picture by Mal McCann
Former UUP leader Lord David Trimble supports Boris Johnson's Brexit deal. Picture by Mal McCann

FORMER Stormont first minister David Trimble has described Boris Johnson's Brexit deal as a "great step forward".

His support for the EU-UK draft withdrawal agreement comes as two former British prime ministers claim that what's on offer threatens Northern Ireland's "fragile peace".

Sir John Major and Tony Blair, who have together made a film to be broadcast at today's Together for the Final Say march in London, plead with MPs "not to wreck the Good Friday Agreement by voting through Boris Johnson’s hard Brexit proposal".

"Leaving Europe, carrying Brexit through, will raise strains we know of and strains we haven't yet thought of," says Sir John.

"That may well end up with dividing a United Kingdom that has been together for a very long time – it is a thoroughly bad idea."

Mr Blair claims that peace in Ireland risks being sacrificed to satisfy the "Brexit obsession of a hardline faction of MPs".

"Now either there is a hard border between Northern Ireland and Britain or a hard border between the north and south of Ireland," he says.

"And it is a shame and an outrage that peace in Northern Ireland is now treated as some disposable inconvenience to be bartered away in exchange for satisfying the obsession of the Brexiteers with wrenching our country out of Europe."

Both former leaders advocate a second referendum – the so-called People's Vote.

However, in contrast ex-Ulster Unionist leader and now Tory peer Lord David Trimble said the 11th hour deal secured with the EU was "in accordance with the spirit of the Good Friday Agreement".

The former Lagan Valley MP, who helped negotiate the 1998 peace accord, launched a legal challenge against the backstop element of Theresa May's withdrawal agreement earlier this year.

The courts said the case could not be heard because no final decision had been taken on the backstop.

In a statement yesterday backing the latest draft withdrawal agreement, the Brexit-supporting former first minister said: "Whilst, previously, the people of Northern Ireland were to have an agreement imposed on them, now we have a mechanism for the consent of the people of Northern Ireland.

"This is fully in accordance with the spirit of the Good Friday Agreement."

Lord Trimble called for the DUP and Sinn Fein to "act together to bring the Good Friday Agreement back to life".

"This is not the time to be looking for excuses not to implement either the Good Friday Agreement or the new deal," he said.