A vote by Britain to quit the European Union (EU) could reignite the vicious, historical conflict in Northern Ireland after years of peace, German Foreign Minister Frank-Walter Steinmeier claimed Thursday.
The minister argued that the only reason for peace in the region, divided by religion and centuries of ethnic tension, was EU imposed free movement.
According to AFP, Mr. Steinmeier claimed an Irish representative had once told him that the conflict in Northern Ireland was currently quiet “because there are no borders in Ireland”.
If the United Kingdom were to quit the EU, “there will be a border again between Ireland and Northern Ireland. And that could at least have the potential of rekindling a conflict that has seemingly calmed down”.
Speaking during a debate on the future of Europe, he added: “In the case of a ‘Brexit’, it won’t be that the EU is simply a group of 28 countries minus one”.
In 1998, the Good Friday Agreement put an end to three decades of fighting between Catholics and Protestants in Northern Ireland during which more than 3,000 people were killed.
The agreement enacted many new features, such as a complex electoral system meaning all sectarian groups would be represented in government, to deescalate tensions.
Anti-Brexit campaigners such as Ireland’s former prime minister, Bertie Ahern, have made similarly alarmist warnings.
However, last week a Northern Ireland Member of Parliament slammed “project fear” for claiming that Brexit would bring the region close to war. Gavin Robinson, the Democratic Unionist Party (DUP) MP for East Belfast, said claims that the army would need to be deployed to the border and that the troubles would return were the “base level of politics”.
Last month, the Northern Ireland Secretary, Theresa Villiers, explained that border arrangements between Ireland and the UK would not change if the public votes to leave the EU.
She told Sky News that leaving the EU would not alter the free flow of “goods and people” over the only land border with the UK:
“There is no reason why we have to change the border arrangements in the event of a Brexit because they have been broadly consistent in the 100 years since the creation of Ireland as a separate state.
“It’s in the interest of both countries to keep an open border and there’s no reason for that to change if the people of this country were to exercise their freedom to vote to leave the EU”.