The European Union is a “failing organisation” that appears unlikely to resolve its problems – meaning the UK is better off with Brexit – Lord Timble has said.
The former Northern Ireland first minister made his comments in response to a claim by ex-US senator George Mitchell that the UK made a “major error” in voting to leave the EU.
Mr Mitchell, who chaired the Northern Ireland peace talks that led to the Good Friday Agreement, said: “I personally believe that while the decision must be respected, it will historically prove to be a major error on the part of the people of the United Kingdom. “One of the consequences could have adverse effects on the people of the island of Ireland... even more intense and negative than those on the UK.”
Mr Mitchell also claimed that the EU played a crucial role in the Northern Ireland peace process.
“I don’t think European Union was essential in the talks themselves,” he said, “but I believe that the talks would never have occurred had there not been a European Union.”
Speaking on BBC Talkback, Mr Mitchell added: “The creation of the European Union did not have as a specific objective improving the relationship between the United Kingdom and Ireland, but that was a subsidiary or a benefit from it. I think the European Union was central to bringing about the Good Friday Agreement.”
Lord Trimble responded saying: “I think he is mistaken in thinking that this is going to be bad for the UK in the long run – quite the opposite is the case. If you step back and look at how the EU is behaving...it is a failing organisation and has not managed to deal with its problems, and it doesn’t look likely to produce leadership to resolve its problems”.
Commenting on George Mitchell’s assertion that the EU was central to the peace process Lord Trimble, who was a key figure in negotiating the Good Friday Agreement, said: “He recognises that the European Union was not in any way formally part of the negotiations, and did not contribute in any way to the outcome.
“What he is talking about is a general background thing – saying that because British and Irish minister met regularly in Brussels, relationships improved. Membership of the EU enabled the Irish Republic to reinvent itself as modern European country, away from the old De Valera vision that had Ireland mired in and anchored in the past. So there is an element there, but it’s not quite as he puts it.”
• Conservative MP Andrew Murrison told Talkback that George Mitchell is respected as a senior political figure we should “listen to what he has to say,” but added: “Is the European Union seriously essential now to guarantee the Good Friday Agreement? Of course not, because we have move a long way since then.”
Also speaking on same programme on Thursday, Sinn Fein MEP Martina Anderson said her party has consistently argued that “Brexit is incompatible with the Good Friday Agreement,” and that “Europe has been important for the peace process and that should not be forgotten”.