BELFAST (Reuters) – Tony Blair and John Major will say on Thursday that a vote to leave the European Union on June 23 would jeopardise the unity of the United Kingdom by undermining the peace in Northern Ireland and stoking calls for Scottish independence.
Speaking together in Northern Ireland, the two former British prime ministers will warn that the “unity of the UK itself is on the ballot paper”, the BBC reported.
Major and Blair, who both played important roles in the Northern Ireland peace process in the 1990s, will say there is a serious risk of a second independence referendum in Scotland and that an out vote could undermine stability in Northern Ireland.
“We understand that, although today Northern Ireland is more stable and more prosperous than ever, that stability is poised on carefully constructed foundations,” Blair will say, according to the BBC.
“And so we are naturally concerned at the prospect of anything that could put those foundations at risk,” Blair will say.
The 1998 Northern Ireland peace deal ended three decades of tit-for-tat killings between Catholic Irish nationalists who want the province to unite with Ireland and their Protestant rivals who want to keep Northern Ireland British. Over 3,600 died in the conflict.
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.
Theresa Villiers, an opponent of EU membership who serves as Britain’s minister for Northern Ireland, said the comments by Blair and Major were irresponsible.
“Whatever the result of the referendum, Northern Ireland is not going back to the troubles of its past and to suggest otherwise would be highly irresponsible,” Villiers said.
(Writing by Freya Berry, editing by Guy Faulconbridge)