Mitchell and Major in warning over Brexit border checks

Good Friday Agreement broker George Mitchell is concerned about the prospect of border checks after Brexit
Connla Young

GOOD Friday Agreement architect George Mitchell has warned there could be “serious trouble ahead” if Brexit leads to border checks.

The former US senator, who chaired the talks which led to the 1998 peace accord, said a hard border would not inevitably result in a return to violence but the risk of that happening was "high enough".

"The real danger for a hard border is not the immediate resurgence of violence although that certainly is a problem," he told BBC Radio 4's Today programme.

"It is the change in attitude.

"If you reinstate a hard border you go back to the days when stereotyping resumes, demilitarisation resumes and people turn inward as opposed to outward and they lose the benefits that come from open borders."

Asked if he believed there could be serious trouble ahead, the former senator said: “Yes, there could be serious trouble ahead.

“No society is immune from the regressive forces that are part of every problem.”

Meanwhile, former British Prime Minister John Major has also spoken of his concerns about the potential return of border checks.

Mr Major, who along with former Taoiseach Albert Reynolds was involved in the early stages of the peace process, said the old border of military checkpoints and watchtowers was a “hated symbol of the Troubles”.

“The memory of that border is so toxic that no-one who knew it in the past wishes to see it return – in any form – in the future,” he said.

“But when the UK leaves Europe the border between Northern Ireland and the Republic will become the perimeter of the EU and, under EU law, customs checks will be unavoidable.

“This reality raises some unwelcome truths,” he wrote in the Irish Mail on Sunday.

Mr Major, who made a high-profile speech last week calling for a free vote in Parliament on a final Brexit deal, believes the presence of border checks could reopen old tensions.

“Although new customs posts would not remotely be the same as the security apparatus of the past, the very fact of a physical border may reopen sectarian fears.

“It is possible that both nationalists and unionists will handle a new border with aplomb – but equally they may not.”

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