GFA20

GFA20: George Mitchell warns about potential impact of Brexit on peace process

Senator George Mitchell has expressed concerns over the impact of Brexit on the Good Friday Agreement
PA and Gareth McKeown

THE man who chaired the all-party negotiations which led to the Good Friday Agreement has rejected claims it is now getting in the way of political progress.

Former US Senator George Mitchell said those making that argument "are primarily concerned with the Brexit debate in the UK and are using the Northern Ireland issue as a part of that debate".

Speaking on the BBC's Andrew Marr Show, he warned about the potential impact of Brexit on the peace process.

He said resolving the problem of the post-Brexit border is vital because it has been an "important factor" in reducing tensions.

Asked what his message would be to Theresa May and Leo Varadkar, Mr Mitchell said: "What I do urge them is to recognise what's at stake here.

"It's the futures of their economies, it's the possibility of resumption of conflict or of a reversion back to a time when nobody wants to go back to except for a very tiny fringe element on both sides.

"I think that means that they have to come up with reasonable and acceptable compromises."

Both the British and Irish governments have said they are committed to avoiding a "hard border" with infrastructure such as cameras or checkpoints.

Mr Mitchell said: "I hope they figure out a way to resolve it that maintains the border in the current status because that's been an important factor in reducing the stereotyping or the demonisation that existed between Northern Ireland and Ireland before, when people who lived just a short distance from the border never crossed it."

Former US First Lady and Secretary of State Hillary Clinton is another who has expressed concerns over the potential impact of Brexit on the Good Friday Agreement.

"Much of what the Good Friday accords covered were border issues,” she told The Detail.

“People wanted to trade and travel and support each other. Nobody knows what Brexit is going to mean. Obviously, I don't support it. I think it was a shortsighted and unfortunate decision that was in great measure motivated by misconceptions and myths about what was happening in the relationship with the EU.

“Who wants to go back to a time when it was frightening to cross the border, it was frightening to go to the pub at night, it was frightening to walk your child to school?"

Mrs Clinton also spoke of her frustration at the political impasse in the north.

"I'm deeply concerned about what is not being done in pursuit of a governing agreement," she said.

"I'm discouraged that the impasse has lasted so long. And now I'm just wondering, those who refuse to come together to create a government, what is the future they expect?"

Meanwhile, the British prime minister at the time the Good Friday Agreement was signed, Tony Blair, called on current leader Theresa May to use her authority to help break the political deadlock.

Mr Blair told BBC NI's The Sunday News he believes it is possible an agreement can be reached at Stormont, much like the one he helped to orchestrate in 1998.

"At a certain point the authority of the prime minister is necessary in order to get people to move and to come into some form of alignment," he said.

"I cannot believe it is not possible to find a way around it. It is very similar to the types of issues we used to deal with.

"It is not easy, and Brexit complicates things for a variety of reasons but... it is still worth doing."

Former Taoiseach Bertie Ahern also called on Stormont's current political leaders to shift positions, saying he believes the current issues blocking progress are not as significant as those faced by negotiators 20 years ago.

“I'm not saying they're minor issues, but they don't compare with those issues, I think they should sort it out," he told the Ray D'Arcy Show.

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