In contrast to the Conservative party, the Labour party under Tony Blair carries a more positive relationship with the European Union (EU). Blair signed the social protocol, negotiated during the Maastricht summit in 1991 and aimed at protecting employees' rights and introducing a minimum wage (Britain did so in 1999). The Thatcher and Major governments absolutely refused to consider the social protocol. Blair also signed the Amsterdam treaty in 1997, which gave more decision-making powers to the European Parliament. Certainly, Blair wants greater British participation in the European integration process. But Blair has made no firm commitment to joining the euro and economic and monetary union. He has indicated that Britain would join as soon as the monetary and fiscal indicators are in alignment with that of the euro zone, but has not set any deadlines. The public strongly opposes the euro, leaving Blair an uphill task of swaying public opinion.
Blair has devoted himself to finding a lasting solution for Northern Ireland, which was also given new devolution powers. The problem was that the Unionists refused to share power with the Irish Republican Army (IRA) until the IRA had been disarmed and the IRA refused to comply with total decommissioning. Ireland and Britain signed an accord in 1998 that envisioned a Roman Catholic-Protestant administration in Northern Ireland. The power-sharing government began operating in December 1999 but lasted only 11 weeks after the IRA refused to make any disarmament commitments. A breakthrough occurred in May 2000 when the IRA announced its readiness to permit outside observers to inspect arms dumps to ensure that no weapons had been removed. The Protestant party voted to revive a joint government with Catholics on 27 May 2000. The situation in Northern Ireland deteriorated in 2001 and 2002, however, with an increase in tensions and the refusal of the IRA to complete decommissioning. First Minister David Trimble of the Ulster Unionists resigned in July 2001. In October 2002, following revelations that Irish Republicans were engaged in a spy ring in the Northern Ireland legislature, direct rule from London was reinstated. In April 2003, both sides agreed diplomacy would be delayed for months.
Following the terrorist attacks made on New York City and Washington, D.C., on 11 September 2001, Tony Blair became a loyal ally of the United States in its war against global terrorism. Blair contributed moral and financial support, ground forces, naval forces, and peacekeepers in Afghanistan in the struggle to eliminate terrorist threats, gaining international recognition but only mediocre reception within the United Kingdom. Blair's relationship with U.S. president George W. Bush raised skepticism and concerns within the Labour Party, as Blair was seen as aligning himself with a president whose foreign policy was aggressive.
Indeed, these fears increased in 2002 and 2003 as the situation leading to war in Iraq developed. In 2002, the United States and the UK amassed troops in the Persian Gulf region in the event that Iraq would not rid itself of chemical, biological, and nuclear weapons or weapons capabilities as demanded by the United Nations (UN) Security Council's Resolution 1441. In the months leading up to the war, which began in March 2003, Blair found himself in a diplomatic crisis, as his fellow EU members France and Germany, along with Russia, vociferously opposed the looming war. Blair stood firmly, however, with the United States. British troops fought alongside American ones, and the coalition defeated the Iraqi regime in April 2003. Following the fall of Baghdad, Blair met with EU leaders and affirmed the need for the UN to play a leading role in the reconstruction of Iraq. This position was unresolved in Washington as of April 2003.
Blair has increasingly become a spokesman for a resolution of the Israeli-Palestinian crisis. In June 2002, US president George W. Bush called for a "road map" for peace, which envisioned Palestinian statehood in 2005, along with resolution of the issues of settlements, Jerusalem, refugees, and security. The "Quartet" as it is known—the United States, the UN, the EU, and Russia—are the driving forces behind the road map plan, and Blair has pressed for the process to steadily continue.