Theresa May must listen carefully to George Mitchell 

Posted By: March 05, 2018

Irish News Editorial. Belfast.Monday,  March 5, 2018.

IF Theresa May is seeking further advice on the full implications of Brexit for Ireland, North, and South, it must be hoped that she pays more attention to George Mitchell than Boris Johnson.

The British prime minister, in a BBC interview yesterday, declined to address her foreign secretary’s astonishing attempt last week to compare the enormously sensitive questions associated with the Irish border to the process of driving from one London borough to another.

An immensely better-informed intervention in the wider debate was made at the weekend by Mr. Mitchell, the former US senator who was the central architect of the 1998 Good Friday Agreement.

He said it was not inevitable that the possible imposition of a hard Irish border – as a result of the chaotic British approach to negotiations with the EU- would have violent consequences, although he described the associated risks as “high enough.”

However, Mr. Mitchell was considerably more concerned about the change in attitudes on all sides which would follow the reintroduction of security measures covering the labyrinth of road links between the two parts of Ireland.

He said: “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.”

What Mr. Mitchell was really saying was that the all the political gains of the last two decades, and the advances in community relations along the way, will be thrown into doubt by the wrong outcome to the Brexit talks.

Mr. Mitchell, of course, has walked the walk across our region, in sharp contrast to Mr. Johnson who would certainly benefit from a number of visits here before offering his insights on the jagged line between Derry and Newry.

If Brexit moves to the next stage, which is far from certain, another key Irish issue which will arise immediately is the representation in the European Parliament of the majority of northern citizens who firmly vote to remain in the EU.

The arguments from two academics which we report today in favor of extending the electorate the opportunity to return MEPs from both sides of the border deserve to be carefully considered by the Irish government.

Mrs. May insisted yesterday that she remained confident of reaching an eventual deal with the EU, although the Irish foreign minister Simon Coveney provided a noticeably cool assessment of her prospects.

If progress is to be made, Mrs. May will have to firmly distance herself from Mr. Johnson and demonstrate instead that she fully understands the dangers which were so starkly set out by Mr. Mitchell.