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Tony Blair has urged DUP chief Jeffrey Donaldson to show “political leadership” and bring his party back to Stormont to restore power-sharing in Northern Ireland.
Speaking to POLITICO’s Westminster Insider podcast, Blair described the decision over whether to return to power-sharing with Sinn Féin as “a test” for Donaldson, but said he believes the DUP chief can show the leadership required.
In a special episode to mark the 25th anniversary of the Good Friday Agreement, which brought peace to Northern Ireland after decades of violent conflict, the former U.K. prime minister said there were lessons for today’s crop of Stormont leaders to draw from the fraught 1998 negotiations.
“There is a lesson — and it’s a lesson in political leadership,” Blair said. “In the end, politics only makes progress when political leaders lead, and that usually means persuading your own support of something they don’t want to be persuaded of. And instead of playing to the gallery, being prepared to look at the genuine interests of the people you represent.”
Donaldson and the DUP have so far rejected U.K. Prime Minister Rishi Sunak’s ‘Windsor Framework’ deal to update and improve the much-maligned Northern Ireland protocol, which set post-Brexit trade arrangements in Northern Ireland.
The DUP collapsed power-sharing at Stormont in protest at the original protocol agreement, leaving Northern Ireland without a functioning government.
In a clear message to Donaldson via the podcast, Blair said: “To be absolutely blunt about it, the Northern Ireland protocol is the best agreement you’re going to get. And you need stability to return to Northern Ireland to protect the union.”
Blair’s comments are part of a wider series of interviews for the podcast in which he and other key players, including former Irish Taoiseach Bertie Ahern, re-live the tense negotiations in the run-up to the 1998 deal.
Blair described the triumphant final deal as “the only successful peace negotiation in global history, actually, for the last 25 years.”