Sir John Major has issued a stark warning that Tory plans for an informal alliance with Northern Irish unionists could threaten peace in the province.
As Prime Minster May scrambles to secure a parliamentary majority through a deal with the Democratic Unionist Party (DUP), Major warned the “fragile” peace could be undermined if the government is “locked” into an agreement with one side of the unionist-republican debate.
Major, often credited with laying the groundwork for the peace process in the 1990s, told the BBC: “The only honest broker can be the UK government, and the question arises, if they cease to be seen as such by part of the community in Northern Ireland, one can't be certain how events will unwind. And that worries me a great deal about the peace process.”
He said a minority government was "an option well worth considering" for the Tories.
Yesterday, May held talks with DUP party leader Arlene Foster which the latter said were "going well". It is thought a so-called “supply and confidence” deal could be struck within the next 48 hours.
Major urged that any DUP deal be counterbalanced by evidence of a cross-party approach to Brexit. “[Then] people would see that there isn't going to be disproportionate pressure from one part of the UK,” he explained.
Meanwhile, May has continued preparations for Brexit talks due to launch next week by appointing Steve Baker, a prominent Brexit campaigner, to the Department for Exiting the EU.
Speculation has been rising that May will opt for a softer version of Brexit after a raft of Remainer appointments earlier this week. And newly-appointed environment secretary Michael Gove yesterday said “Remainer” concerns must be accounted for in planning.
However, Gove later clarified his comments, adding this would not mean staying within the EU's trading rules, telling the BBC: “We will be outside of the Customs Union as it is understood.”
German finance minister Wolfgang Schaeuble weighed into the debate yesterday saying he wanted a Brexit deal that would limit negative consequences for the bloc, and would not weaken Britain.
"We want a solution that causes as little damage as possible for both sides," Schaeuble said, later adding in an interview with Bloomberg, that the UK “would find open doors” if it reversed course on leaving the EU.
His words were later echoed by new French President Emmanuel Macron, who was meeting May in Paris.
Standing alongside May in the gardens of the Elysee palace, Macron said "the door remains open” for Britain to change its mind about Brexit.
The European Parliament's lead on Brexit, Guy Verhofstadt, said the EU was “impatiently waiting” for negotiations to begin. “The current uncertainty cannot continue,” he said.