Clinton urges North’s politicians to form ‘unity government’

Interim executive could deal with Brexit and resolve political deadlock – Hillary Clinton

Hillary Clinton following a ceremony at Queen’s University Belfast where she was awarded an honorary degree. Photograph: Brian Lawless/ PA Wire

Hillary Clinton following a ceremony at Queen’s University Belfast where she was awarded an honorary degree. Photograph: Brian Lawless/ PA Wire

 

Hillary Clinton has urged Northern Ireland politicians to consider forming a “unity government” to ensure the best possible Brexit outcome for Northern Ireland.

Ms Clinton, when being conferred with an honorary degree at Queen’s University Belfast on Wednesday evening, said an interim Northern Executive could assist in dealing with Brexit and resolving the political deadlock between the DUP and Sinn Féin.

The former US secretary of state and unsuccessful presidential candidate said the uncertainty around Brexit was a contributor to the political impasse.

“I thought it was a bad idea before the referendum and I think it is an even worse idea now,” she told an audience of about 800 in the Whitla Hall where she was awarded the degree of Doctor of Laws (LLD) for her “exceptional public service in the USA and globally, and for her outstanding contribution to peace and reconciliation in Northern Ireland”.

“It may go down as one of the greatest and most unnecessary self-inflicted wounds of modern history,” she added.

“But Brexit appears to be happening one way or the other. It is crucial, however it comes out, that Brexit should not be allowed to undermine the peace and prosperity that has been so dearly won here,” she said.

Ms Clinton referred to how a recent poll found that 87 per cent of leavers in Northern Ireland would put seeing Brexit implemented above the peace process. “The sentiment is sobering,” she said.

She added that it was easy to take for granted that peace and prosperity always would continue. “But history teaches us a different lesson. Peace is fragile, progress can be fleeting, prosperity can leave,” she said.

She wondered in such circumstances would it be possible for the people of Northern Ireland and those who represent them to “form an interim unity government for the purpose of securing the best possible Brexit outcome for Northern Ireland”.

‘Unified voice’

Such a “unified voice could be valuable in the difficult days ahead and even offering such an approach could be beneficial. If it were refused, it could say a lot about whose side people were on.”

Continuing her argument for an interim powersharing administration she added, “Imagine a functional executive that speaks for all the people of Northern Ireland weighing in on the final negotiations and helping shape the implementation of whatever plan emerges.

“Imagine an executive reassuring investors in companies already skittish about Brexit [and] sending a clear message that no matter what happens, Northern Ireland was open for business.

“Imagine an executive working to ensure the Good Friday Agreement is protected in all its parts as the UK and the EU promised last December. That means remaining committed to the EU equality norms,” she said.

She realised that her proposal appeared far from easy to implement against a backdrop of zero sum and Orange and Green politics.

But Ms Clinton noted how in 2016 the then DUP first minister Arlene Foster and the late Sinn Féin deputy first minister Martin McGuinness were able to agree in a letter to British prime minister Theresa May “about their Brexit priorities and concerns”.

Ms Clinton said she did not have the key to resolving Brexit and the political logjam but “putting aside the quarrels of the present, even for a time, to work together to preserve the benefits Northern Ireland now enjoys” would be welcome.

“There is no sustainable solution to the current impasse where one party wins and the other party loses. The only sustainable solution is finding an honourable accommodation that more than anything else protects the Good Friday Agreement,” she said.

“The only way through is the democratic process working to find some common ground, working to obtain buy-in from all communities in Northern Ireland through a functioning interim executive,” added Ms Clinton.