Backstop ‘most over-rated issue’ in Brexit debate, says Bertie Ahern

Former taoiseach is ‘sometimes puzzled’ over DUP’s stance on the UK leaving the EU

Former Taoiseach Bertie Ahern on the current Brexit impasse and what rejoining the Commonwealth. Video: Reuters/ Parliment TV/ Enda O'Dowd


Former taoiseach Bertie Ahern has dismissed concerns in the UK over the backstop element to the Brexit Withdrawal Agreement. “The backstop will never apply. I’m afraid the hullabaloo created by those that are against this, including in the Westminster Parliament, are wrong, and I told them that to their face,” he said.

“The reality is there is no circumstance that any logical person can conceive that if Britain, the UK, pulls out of Europe that there will not be a trading relationship. I have thought about this for few years. I cannot even dream in a bad dream of a position where there will not be a trading relationship between the UK and the EU. So therefore the backstop will never apply,” he said.

It was “the most over-talked about and over-rated issue,” he said.

Speaking to The Irish Times, Mr Ahern said he also believed the Brexit debate had revived discussion about a united Ireland. “It has definitely created a debate that wasn’t there previously about what a new Ireland would look like. Prof Mary McAleese has made a speech about this.”

It was being debated academically at UCD, DCU, Queens University Belfast, and other third level institutions in Northern Ireland, he said, and that “one of our eminent High Court judges has written a very good book on this, two if I’m subject to correction, Richard Humphreys. ”

But it was not about “a united Ireland as used be portrayed when Articles 2 and 3 of the Constitution were still there, but a new Ireland - what kind of an arrangement, what kind of a Constitutional administrative position would be set up.”


Asked about DUP MP Jeffrey Donaldson’s proposal at the recent Fine Gael Ard Fheis that Ireland should rejoin the Commonwealth, Mr Ahern commented “it’s great to see that Jeffrey would have agreed totally with Eamonn de Valera”.

Mr de Valera “used to see international organisations, like the International Labour Organisation in Geneva, as great vehicles for Ireland to go and have a platform and to be able to speak to the world.”

He believed it was also in that context de Valera favoured remaining in the Commonwealth. As for himself “I’m democrat so I would think if the Commonwealth had an elected leader, changed every few years, I think it would be more democratic. Then Ireland, perhaps, could take up the first chair of it. But I think the idea of having a leader for life is not a democratic organisation. I’m not hugely in favour of non-democratic organisations.”

He was “sometimes puzzled” by the DUP stance on Brexit. He understood their argument “because the DUP are very much bedded and wedded all the time to the Constitutional position of Northern Ireland within the United Kingdom” but that DUP concerns about this had been addressed in the St Andrews agreement.

After which it was “clearly understood that no longer was Northern Ireland exactly the same as any other part of the United Kingdom; that it had a unique position and a special position and it has to be treated differently.”

He said “I don’t think their argument stands up to scrutiny. I understand their position but I think their concern, in my view, is not a concern they need to have.”

He “very much” welcomed the support of US House of Representatives speaker Nancy Pelosi and other senior American politicians for the Good Friday Agreement in the context of Brexit.

“It is good that their voice is there as a counterweight to other voices in American politics. We’re talking about the trade deals and (US national security adviser) Mr Bolton who said they were waiting for as soon as the UK was out of Europe to do a trade deal with them,” he said.

“I know Nancy Pelosi very well, Richard Neal and others that are here and I’ll be meeting them while they’re here. They have been very supportive right through the process,” he said.