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Tony Blair

Blair: Good Friday Agreement 'the only really successful peace process' of the past 25 years

The former UK prime minister gave an interview to AFP ahead of the 25th anniversary of the agreement.

FORMER UK PRIME Minister Tony Blair has said the Good Friday Agreement is “the only really successful peace process” of the past quarter of a century.

Blair spent three days and nights with then-Taoiseach Irish Bertie Ahern and an envoy of US president Bill Clinton negotiating the final stretch before the agreement was signed on 10 April, 1998.

In an interview with AFP and other European news agencies, Blair compared the conflict between Israel and Palestinians to that in Northern Ireland, adding that he “often” advises Palestinians to take lessons from the pro-unification movement.

Reflecting on the shift in strategy by Sinn Féin, from the bullet to the ballot box, Blair said “it’s something I often say to the Palestinians: you should learn from what they did”.

The 69 year old was pensive and defiant as he reflected on the upcoming anniversaries of two events that arguably defined the best and worst of his decade in power – the peace process and the war in Iraq, respectively.

Monday marks 20 years since Blair joined US president George W. Bush in launching an invasion of Saddam Hussein’s Iraq, without a UN mandate and in defiance of some of the biggest demonstrations ever seen in Britain.

file-photo-dated-2872006-of-tony-blair-and-george-bush-holding-a-news-conference-at-the-white-house-in-washington-sir-tony-blair-was-desperate-to-establish-good-relations-with-us-president-george-b Tony Blair at a press conference with George Bush in 2006 Alamy Stock Photo Alamy Stock Photo

Fallout from the Iraq war arguably hampered Blair’s own efforts as an international envoy to negotiate peace between Israel and the Palestinians, after he left office in 2007.

Through the Tony Blair Institute for Global Change, Blair maintains offices in the region and says he is “still very passionate” about promoting peace in the Middle East, even if it appears “pretty distant right now”.

But while there can be no settlement in Ukraine until Russia recognises that “aggression is wrong”, he says the Palestinians could draw lessons from the undisputed high point of his tenure: peace in Northern Ireland.

“They shifted strategy and look at the result,” he added, denying he was biased towards Israel but merely recognising the reality of how to negotiate peace.

“There are lots of things contested and uncontested,” he added, dwelling on his tumultuous time in 10 Downing Street from 1997 to 2007.

“I suppose the one uncontested thing is probably the Good Friday Agreement.

“The thing had more or less collapsed when I came to Belfast and we had to rewrite it and agree it … it’s probably been the only really successful peace process of the last period of time, in the last 25 years.”


For its many critics, the war in Iraq was exposed as a reckless misadventure when no weapons of mass destruction were found, and hampered the West’s ability to stand up to the rise of autocrats in Russia and China.

But Blair rejects the notion that Russian President Vladimir Putin profited by defying a weakened West with his own aggression against Ukraine, starting in 2014 and extending to last year’s full invasion.

“If he didn’t use that excuse [Iraq], he’d use another excuse,” he said.

Saddam, Blair noted, had initiated two regional wars, defied multiple UN resolutions and launched a chemical attack on his own people.

Ukraine, in contrast, has a democratic government and posed no threat to its neighbours when Putin invaded.

“At least you could say we were removing a despot and trying to introduce democracy,” Blair said, speaking at the offices of his Tony Blair Institute for Global Change in central London.

“Now you can argue about all the consequences and so on.

“His [Putin's] intervention in the Middle East [in Syria] was to prop up a despot and refuse a democracy. So we should treat all that propaganda with the lack of respect it deserves.”

Newly released UK state papers revealed last year that Blair argued that Putin should be given a seat at the international “top table” despite deep misgivings among officials about the then-new Russian president.

file-photo-dated-1742000-of-vladimir-putin-with-tony-blair-during-his-visit-to-10-downing-street-london-blair-argued-that-vladimir-putin-should-be-given-a-seat-at-the-international-top-table-des Tony Blair and Vladimir Putin at 10 Downing Street in 2000 Alamy Stock Photo Alamy Stock Photo

Blair argued at the time that it was important to encourage Russia to adopt western values.


Blair came to power as leader of Britain’s Labour party in the years after it suffered a paralysing defeat to the Conservatives that few saw coming.

While praising current Labour leader Keir Starmer, Blair says that in the next general election, a shock win cannot be ruled out for Prime Minister Rishi Sunak’s Tories – even if the party currently trails badly in the polls.

from-left-labour-leader-sir-keir-starmer-former-prime-ministers-tony-blair-and-gordon-brown-ahead-of-the-accession-council-ceremony-at-st-jamess-palace-london-london-saturday-sept-10-2022-wh Keir Starmer, Tony Blair and Gordon Brown at St James's Palace in London last year Alamy Stock Photo Alamy Stock Photo

But on one thing regarding UK politics, the elder statesman is sure: Britain will not rejoin the European Union in the coming years.

“Whether and how the UK rejoins the EU will be for a future generation. I think that’s the reality,” he said.

The former prime minister vocally opposed Brexit in Britain’s 2016 referendum, even travelling to Northern Ireland with ex-Tory leader John Major to warn of its likely impact on the delicate peace there.

“I think right now, the debate in the UK is the degree to which we want to re-establish a strong relationship with Europe, which I think we should and which I believe Labour will also do,” Blair said.

Britain and the EU had much to talk about in energy and climate, science and research, and defence and security after Russia’s invasion of Ukraine, he said.

“I think there’s a strong case for trying to cooperate on technology,” Blair added.

“Because otherwise, Europe, including the UK, is going to be pinned between two technology giants in the US and China, and possibly a third in India.

“And so I think there’s a massive amount we can do together.”

© AFP 2023

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