Brexit “will prove to be a huge error” – Mitchell

Posted By: May 06, 2017

Edwin McGreal. Mayo News. Tuesday, May 2017

STRAIGHT TALKER Former US Senator George Mitchell delivering the fourth annual

Mary Robinson Internation Human Rights Lecture in Ballina. 

Pic: Henry Wills

The man central to negotiating the Good Friday Agreement in 1998 has predicted that the United Kingdom’s decision to leave the European Union will be one it will hugely regret.
Former US Senator George Mitchell was speaking at a press briefing in Mount Falcon Estate on Thursday morning ahead of giving the fourth Mary Robinson lecture in St Patrick’s Church in Ballina that afternoon.

“I respect the decision of the people of the United Kingdom who voted to leave the European Union as a democratically taken decision but I disagree with it and one of the essences of democracy is open discussion and debate and open disagreement. I think it will prove to be historically a huge error on the part of the United Kingdom,” Mr Mitchell said.

Whilst admitting that the European Union is ‘fallible’, he said it has been ‘remarkably successful in its central purpose which is the promotion of stability and peace in Europe and beyond’.
He said that while the European Union is being questioned and challenged currently, going back to a time without such a pan-European union is not the way forward.

“I think the challenges have to be met, the questions have to be answered, I think the way forward is to improve those institutions and not look to return to the past but to meet the challenges of the 21st century,” he said.
Former Senator Mitchell argued that one of the central contributors to peace in the North was, in fact, the membership of the European Union by both the Republic of Ireland and the United Kingdom.

“I believe that one of the major factors that led to the peace in Northern Ireland was the co- operation of the governments of Ireland and the United Kingdom and that co-operation was furthered and developed in their common membership in the European Union.
“After Ireland achieved its independence in 1922, there was a long period of cold relations between Ireland and the United Kingdom over a variety of issues but one of the factors that brought them together to work together in their common interest was the creation of the European Union, the beginnings of seeing each other as partners in a common effort and I think that spirit and attitude carried forward into and encouraged and enabled the peace process that ultimately happened in the North,” he said.

‘Living in a revolution’

Commenting on wider political changes nowadays in light of Brexit, Mr. Mitchell argued we are living in a revolution that historians will place in the same light as the Industrial Revolution and spoke at length about responding to change.
“It is a revolution driven by two forces: rapid technological and a dramatic increase in the movement of goods and people across national borders, triggered in part by the actions taken after the second world war (alliances such as the European Union and NATO) in an effort to establish peace and stability and prosperity on a broadly shared basis.

“There are some who think the answer is to look backward, to try to recreate a mythical past. That’s true in the UK, that’s true in the United States, it’s undoubtedly true in every society that there are some who believe that. I believe to the contrary. That we have to embrace change, that we have to not only heed the knowledge that modern science provides to us but encourage even more such knowledge and harness it to our benefit. The real question is whether we can do so in a way that also mitigates the loss to those now tens of millions of people who are not beneficiaries of change but are victims of it,” he said.

Mr. Mitchell argued further for the need for people to be receptive to such change.

“If you go all the way back to the advent of democracy in Greece city states, there are always two forces, the forces that resist change, that yearn for a past that is seen through rose coloured glasses and those who are willing to accept change. It is really those who accept modernity against those who want a return to the past.

“You can’t go backward. I come from the state of Maine. We once had, in my part of the country, New England, a small and thriving industry in which many men were employed in the manufacture of stage coaches and other horse drawn carriages. There isn’t a person employed in America in that industry today but no rational person will argue that we are worse off because the automobile was invented. But for the men and their families in the small towns where those stage coaches were made, the loss is real, the pain is real.
“We have to figure out a way that those men, their families are equipped to meet the challenges of 21st century and benefit from technology in the same way that everybody in this room and probably most people in the audience today have. That is the real challenge of leadership in all societies and particularly in western democracies,” he concluded.