Belfast Telegraph

Brexit could destablise the peace process, warns Mitchell

By Noel McAdam

Brexit could damage relations between the United Kingdom and the Irish Republic, the man who brokered the Good Friday Agreement has warned.

Senator George Mitchell played a key role as chairman of the talks that led to the 1998 Agreement.

Now in his early 80s, the peacemaker still takes a keen interest in Northern Ireland.

In an interview with Sky News, the American diplomat said: "I believe that the European Union was an important factor that led the United Kingdom and Ireland to co-operate in establishing a process that led to the Good Friday Agreement.

"And I think the UK being out of the European Union may reduce the prospects for further co-operation."

He added: "We recognised at the time… that by itself, the Agreement did not assure peace or prosperity or reconciliation. It made them possible.

"So what I said at the time was that it would take many years and many difficult decisions by courageous leaders in Northern Ireland to attain those goals."

His comments came as it emerged Labour peers will today attempt to build protections for Northern Ireland and the Republic into the negotiations leading to the UK's withdrawal from the EU.

The peers include former Secretary of State Paul Murphy and NIO Minister Angela Smith, who want to ensure no 'hard border' between the province and the Republic emerges over the next two years.

As the House of Lords moves to the committee stage of the legislation to trigger the negotiations, amendments can be introduced.

Peers including Lord Tommy McAvoy - Labour's shadow spokesman on Northern Ireland - are tabling one today calling on the government to have regard to the constitutional, institutional and rights provisions of the Good Friday Agreement.

Mr Murphy said: "We must have a commitment that the provisions of the Agreement will remain in place, and be respected both in letter and in spirit.

"There are implications for the border and the free movement of people, goods and services.

"Those born in and residing in Northern Ireland who choose to take up their right to Irish citizenship will, by virtue of that right, remain citizens of the EU.

"The long-standing rights of Irish citizens within the UK must also be protected, and vital institutions preserved.

"Mrs May and her ministers need to demonstrate that they understand these realities, and respect not just Northern Ireland's past but its future, too."

And a second former Labour Secretary of State, Peter Hain, has argued the island of Ireland is becoming "almost daily united in everyday life".

Writing in the Observer yesterday, he said: "It has been as if the border no longer matters. Citizens on either side can and do take advantage of the health and educational services nearest to where they live on a cross-border basis. People cross the border freely to work, play and socialise.

"Northern Ireland businesses invest without hindrance in the Republic and the same occurs for businesses in reverse. The two economies are being steadily integrated: even the level of corporation tax in Northern Ireland is being cut to synchronise with the low rate in the South."

But he said after Brexit, politics in Northern Ireland will again come to be dominated by the border.

"Of course, the island of Ireland has not been united politically or constitutionally, but it is almost daily becoming united in everyday life.

"And that is welcomed by unionists as well, secure in the knowledge that there can be no change in the constitutional position without their consent.

"The government disturbs that normalisation at everyone's great and grim peril. I don't say that we will go back to the murder and mayhem of the Troubles, but I do insist the process could so easily unravel.

"It requires continuous forward momentum, and a reimposed border with restrictions in any way is the very reverse of that.

"If the referendum result means Brexit at any price, it might well come at a dangerously high cost for the Northern Ireland peace process."

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