Bill Clinton ‘most worried’ about Brexit’s impact on Belfast Agreement

Former US president says he thinks those who voted for Brexit ‘overreacted’

Bill Clinton speaking at a Concern Worldwide conference in Dublin last week. Photograph:  Nick Bradshaw/The Irish Times

Bill Clinton speaking at a Concern Worldwide conference in Dublin last week. Photograph: Nick Bradshaw/The Irish Times

 

Former US president Bill Clinton says he is concerned about the impact Brexit will have on the Belfast Agreement.

Speaking on the Pat Kenny Show on Newstalk he said he was “most worried about the Good Friday Agreement, because I care so much about Ireland. ”

As president, Mr Clinton played a key role in negotiating the peace process in 1998 which helped to end 30 years of violence in the North.

The Border between the Republic and Northern Ireland is a flashpoint in the talks between the EU negotiators, led by Michel Barnier, and the UK prime minister, Theresa May.

There are fears on both side of the Border fear that if the UK crashes out of the EU without a deal – a so-called hard Brexit – this could see the return of checkpoints, hitting economic activity and possibly affecting the peace process.

A majority of people living in Northern Ireland voted to remain in the EU in the Brexit referendum in 2016.

Mr Clinton says he was “dismayed because there were people, I thought, who voted for Brexit because they thought the European parliament had gone too far.

“Well, nearly everybody can cite one or two examples where they thought the European parliament went too far. If that’s the test, none of us would belong to any clubs, or anything else - I thought that was overreacting.

“Then there were those, mostly in rural England and Wales, who said they wanted to get rid of the immigrants. They were worried about the Polish immigrants taking their jobs. Well, they were basically going to cities where there was a shortage of employees and an abundance of work. I never thought it made any sense,” Mr Clinton said.

‘Uncertainty’

“Even though Northern Ireland’s kept the peace, and there’s still cranes in Belfast where work is going in and the Irish economy is back to where it was before the crisis, as the fastest growing economy in Europe. But the Northern Ireland economy’s growth is still under two per cent, and it’s because of all this uncertainty and where we’re going to go.”

Mr Clinton said he believes the “political situation in Northern Ireland will clarify, once people know exactly what the Brexit terms are going to be.”

Mr Clinton made the remarks in light of the fact the Northern Ireland Assembly has not sat since early last year in a row over identity issues like the Irish language, along with the cash-for-ash scandal, which has prevented the appointment of ministers.

Repeated negotiations convened by the British and Irish governments have failed to persuade former coalition partners the Democratic Unionists and Sinn Féin to reconcile their differences. Last week Northern Secretary Karen Bradley said Stormont Assembly members’ pay will be reduced by more than £13,000 (€14,475) as they are not performing all their functions,

Far-right in US

When asked about the current situation in US politics and the rise of far-right beliefs, he said: “Yes, there are some reasons for people to feel resentment. There’s growing inequality, and yes everybody wants some limits on immigration.

“But this anti-immigrant fervour is a very dangerous symptom of an ‘us Vs them’ world.

“America has no real immigration crisis. We act like it’s the end of the world when 30,000 people show up at the southern border of the United States, ” Mr Clinton said.

When asked if he had any advice for candidates in the forthcoming presidential campaign in Ireland, he said, he did not as that would be presumptuous. He said that the office of president was “quite useful to Ireland” as it served to remind people “of the bigger things that bring us together.”