Blair and Major join forces to back 'remain' vote

Sir John Major (right) and Tony Blair attend a Remain campaign event at the University of Ulster in Londonderry. Credit: PA

Former adversaries Tony Blair and Sir John Major are setting aside party differences to urge voters in Northern Ireland to vote ‘remain’ in the forthcoming EU referendum.

The former prime ministers will warn that a ‘Brexit’ risks instability and could lead to the threaten the unity of the UK.

Major and Blair both played active roles in the peace process in the country.

Sir John will warn that a vote to leave would risk "destabilising the complicated and multi-layered constitutional settlement that underpins stability in Northern Ireland", something that would be a "dreadful mistake”.

But party colleague and Northern Ireland Secretary Theresa Villiers argued that support for the peace process in Northern Ireland was “rock solid”.

"The vast majority of people in Northern Ireland believe their future should only ever be determined by democracy and consent and not by violence.

"I very much hope figures who played such an important role in the peace process would not suggest that a Brexit vote would weaken that resolve in any way. 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."

She insisted the common travel area between the UK and the Republic of Ireland would continue if there was a Leave win, even though the border would become the frontier between an EU member and a non-EU nation.

Ms Villiers said: "There would be risks to manage but they are not significantly more serious than risks that are already managed effectively today through bilateral co-operation between the UK and Ireland.

"The idea that thousands of non-Irish EU citizens would suddenly start crossing the border is far-fetched."