Brexit warning from US senator who brokered Northern Ireland peace
George Mitchell says ‘serious trouble’ could lie ahead if Border checks reinstated
Brexit warning: “If you reinstate a hard border . . . stereotyping resumes, demonisation resumes, and people turn inward as opposed to outward,” said George Mitchell. Photograph: Christopher Goodney/Bloomberg
George Mitchell, who worked with Bertie Ahern and Tony Blair to strike the peace deal in 1998, said he did not think that a return to violence was inevitable but that “the risk of it is high enough” for politicians to take action before any “regressive” forces in society resurge.
He told BBC Radio 4’s Today programme that the greater danger was the “change in attitude” between communities that had been in conflict or had lived with physical or social barriers in the past. “When there was a hard border there was very little commerce, there was very little interaction between the people of Northern Ireland and the people of the Republic, and that led to stereotyping, to the demonisation of others, to attitudes that were based upon acts from the distant past,” he said.
“The open Border has meant people travelling back and forth, a degree of social interaction, of commerce, of people working together. If you reinstate a hard border . . . stereotyping resumes, demonisation resumes, and people turn inward as opposed to outward, and they lose the benefits that come from open borders . . . There could be serious trouble ahead. No society is immune from the regressive forces that are part of every problem.”
Mitchell said that peace was fragile and that it would take years to make the changes in attitude between communities become a way of normal life.
He also raised concerns about the deadlock over resumption of powersharing in Northern Ireland. “What is most difficult to change in conflict societies is what is in the minds and hearts of people. That’s what’s hard, that’s what takes a long time to change, and that change is not completed in Northern Ireland.”
The collapse of the devolved government 13 months ago, combined with uncertainty about the border, made the 20th anniversary of the Belfast Agreement, this year, “seem hollow”. – Guardian