Boris Johnson threatens to destroy peace in Ireland, according to the man who wrote the historic Good Friday Agreement.
Jonathan Powell warns today that the PM’s decision to rip up Britain’s international treaty obligations risks “tipping us back into violence”.
In a blistering attack, the former chief of staff to Tony Blair says the move is a “threat to everything this country stands for”.
He calls on Tory MPs to rebel in sufficient numbers to block the contentious Internal Market Bill in the Commons.
The Bill – which ministers admit breaks international law – threatens to wreck any final Brexit deal by tearing up the Northern Ireland protocol, negotiated, agreed and signed by Mr Johnson only last October.
Downing Street says the agreement was “rushed” and the new legislation provides essential qualifications to the Brexit withdrawal agreement.
But it has been met with a barrage of shocked derision from critics – including ex-PMs Tony Blair and John Major, who also unleashed a withering attack today.
Writing for the Sunday Mirror, Mr Powell says: “He has put the Good Friday Agreement at risk.
By breaking the agreement with the EU he makes it more likely the EU will have to impose a hard border between Northern Ireland and the Republic of Ireland.
If that hard border goes up again it will threaten the very basis of the Good Friday Agreement and risk tipping us back into violence.”
Mr Blair and Mr Major united to condemn the legislation in an article for The Sunday Times.
They wrote: “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 US.
“Once trust is undermined, distrust becomes prevalent. 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 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.”
Irish Prime Minister Micheál Martin said Mr Johnson’s move “eroded trust”. In a call he urged the PM to “re-engage with EU negotiators urgently”.
The border is a sensitive and symbolic issue after a conflict which cost at least 3,600 lives.
The 1998 accord brokered by Mr Powell ended three decades of violence which haunt families in Omagh, Enniskillen, Londonderry, Belfast – and many more towns and cities across Ulster and the UK.
Avoiding a hard border with checkpoints is key to the Northern Ireland peace deal. The NI protocol is a central plank of the EU withdrawal agreement.
Mr Johnson’s new Bill would “eliminate the legal force of parts of the withdrawal agreement” and give sweeping powers to “disapply” parts of it whenever ministers wished. It effectively tears up the whole basis for talks, already in peril of collapsing.
The row resurrects the Tory civil war over Europe and also threatens Mr Johnson’s trade deal with the US.
Nancy Pelosi, leader of the House of Representatives, said: “If the UK violates that treaty and Brexit undermines the Good Friday accord, there will be absolutely no chance of a US-UK agreement passing Congress.”
Mr Powell suggests the PM’s “sidekick” Dominic Cummings is partly behind the plan which has “trashed Britain’s global reputation”.
He suggests Tory MPs get rid of him.
The row was fuelled when Northern Ireland Secretary Brandon Lewis admitted in the Commons that the Bill would break international law “in a specific and limited way”.
A Number 10 spokesman said: “It is simply wrong to suggest that complying with some highly problematic EU law is more important than preserving peace or the integrity of the UK.
“We are introducing a safety net to make sure, if we are unable to secure a deal by the end of the year, nothing restricts our ability to protect the people of this country.
“We will continue to protect and uphold the peace settlement created by the Good Friday Agreement and we are determined to ensure the status quo at the border between Northern Ireland and the Republic remains.“
New name but same goals
Since the 1998 Good Friday Agreement brought peace, IRA hardliners have formed splinter groups to keep fighting the war.
And Whitehall security sources say the only reason the mainland has not suffered any serious atrocities is because they lack the strategic capability to mount them.
But under names like Real IRA and Continuity IRA they continue bombings and shootings in the Province. Last year CIRA attempted to bomb police in Craigavon, in County Armagh, and Wattle Bridge, County Fermanagh. And in January they planted a bomb aboard a lorry in the hope the truck was going by North Channel ferry to Scotland.
Police came across it in February in Lurgan. Like CIRA, the Real IRA was formed from disaffected Provos opposed to the Good Friday pact. They merged with other militants to form the New IRA.
RIRA carried out the Omagh bombing in August 1998 which killed 29 and injured 220 – the Troubles’ largest single death toll.
And last year they admitted sending letter bombs to British targets – all successfully defused.
The security services believe that although active terrorists in each group only number a handful, they have 800 activists combined.
That is the same size as the Provisional IRA before 1998.