Tony Blair has warned that a hard border between Northern Ireland and the Irish Republic would be a “disaster”.
The former UK PM said later he believed there was a “common desire” to make Northern Ireland a “special case” in Brexit negotiations.
An open border had done a “tremendous amount” for UK and Irish trade and must be safeguarded “as much as possible”.
The British and Irish governments have both said they do not want a return to customs posts on the border.
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When, as part of Brexit, the UK leaves the EU’s customs union there will have to be some from of customs enforcement.
The EU’s negotiating guidelines call for a “flexible and creative” approach to the customs issue but no solid plans have yet been advanced by either the EU or the UK.
On Thursday, the EU’s chief negotiator Michel Barnier told a joint session of the Irish houses of parliament in Dublin that the Irish border issue would be one of his three priorities in negotiations but emphasised that there would have to be some form of customs controls between NI and the Republic after Brexit.
Mr Blair, who was UK prime minister during the Northern Ireland peace process, was in Wicklow, Ireland to address a meeting of MEPs from the European People’s Party – the largest group in the European Parliament.
Speaking to RTE Radio before the meeting, Mr Blair said: “It really would be a disaster to have a hard border.”
But following the EPP meeting later he stressed that he believed there was a “common desire” to treat Northern Ireland as a “special case”.
He said he was “extremely anxious” to ensure Brexit did not damage the Good Friday Agreement – of which he was one of the architects.
“At the moment we have a common travel area where people can travel freely between south and north … on the island of Ireland. This is vital to maintain.”
“I think whatever disagreements I have with the British government over Brexit more generally, I think there is a real consensus across the British political system that we must do everything we possibly can to keep the present situation between the Republic of Ireland and Northern Ireland … as similar to what we have at the moment as we possibly can.”