Brexit vote could split UK, former premiers warn
John Major, Tony Blair say leaving EU could lead to Scottish independence and risk Irish peace
The U.K. could be split if voters opt for Brexit in two weeks’ time, two former British prime ministers have warned Thursday.
John Major, who was premier between 1990 and 1997, and his successor Tony Blair shared a platform at a university campus in the Northern Ireland town of Londonderry to say the “wrong outcome” could tear the country apart.
It was a rare joint appearance from the two men who represent different political parties and were adversaries in the 1997 general election.
“The plain, uncomfortable truth is that the unity of the United Kingdom itself is on the ballot paper in two weeks’ time,” Major told the audience of students at the University of Ulster.
He said that if a majority of people in Scotland voted to remain in the European Union but the remainder of the country decided to leave, it could force a second Scottish independence referendum.
“Ultimately, nationalist pressure for another shot at leaving the U.K. in Scotland could prove to be uncontrollable and politically irresistible. And in those circumstances, if the U.K. was outside the European Union, I can well envisage a different result in that referendum,” Major said.
The two prime ministers played crucial roles in the Northern Ireland peace process – a settlement that Tony Blair argued could be threatened by a decision to leave the European Union.
Referring to advocates of Brexit, he said: “I say, don't take a punt on these people. Don't let them take risks with Northern Ireland's future. Don't let them undermine our United Kingdom.
“We understand that although today Northern Ireland is more stable and more prosperous than ever, that stability is poised on carefully constructed foundations.
“And so we are naturally concerned at the prospect of anything that could put those foundations at risk.”
The two leaders questioned the future of the open border between Northern Ireland and the Republic of Ireland, saying Brexit could mean border checks are introduced.
But the comments were criticized by Northern Ireland Secretary Theresa Villiers, who is campaigning for Brexit.
She told the BBC: “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.”