By Claudia Savage, PA
The Windsor Framework is the most “practical way forward” to deal with difficulties caused by Brexit in Northern Ireland, former UK prime minister Tony Blair said.
Mr Blair was giving evidence to the Northern Ireland Affairs committee, which is carrying out an inquiry into the effectiveness of the institutions of the Good Friday Agreement.
He told the committee the new framework agreed between the UK and the EU was the best that could be done to solve a problem with no real answer.
He was asked by DUP MP Jim Shannon about how the Good Friday Agreement relates to the Windsor Framework.
“My reason for supporting what this Prime Minister has done on the Windsor agreement is that I think it represents the most practical way forward that minimises all the theoretical objections,” Mr Blair said.
“The problem is we’re trying to reconcile the inevitable different elements that come from Brexit and its impact on Northern Ireland.
“It was always going to be a difficult circle to square and the protocol and the Windsor agreement is an attempt to square it.”
UK prime minister Rishi Sunak and EU Commission president Ursula von der Leyen unveiled the new framework last month to replace the Northern Ireland Protocol, which led the DUP to collapse the Stormont powersharing institutions.
The DUP, which is boycotting the Stormont powersharing institutions, has set up a panel to study the new framework against its seven tests before reaching a collective conclusion.
Mr Blair said the framework seeks to improve on areas the DUP have objected to, notably in relation to checks on goods.
“It doesn’t remove them but it means that they’re going to, in most circumstances, be practically insignificant,” he said.
“That is honestly the best I think you can do with this.
“The realism is that there is no real answer to this problem.”
Mr Blair was in office when the Good Friday Agreement was signed and the Northern Ireland Assembly was established in 1998.
Mr Shannon asked Mr Blair about the need for unionist support in the implementation of the Windsor Framework.
“Unionism has got to be part of the process,” Mr Blair said.
“The whole basis of the agreement is that the different elements of politics in Northern Ireland come together and that cross-community working together is the essence of the agreement.
“As a matter of principle, unionism has got to be involved, otherwise it won’t work.”
Mr Shannon said: “I appreciate your answer but we want to make sure the Windsor Framework does not become the Windsor knot.”