BREXIT REFERENDUM

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Former NI customs post at Inishammon on Fermanagh/Monaghan border near Roslea.  Pic: Michael Fisher

CRUCIAL VOTE TO DECIDE FUTURE OF UNITED KINGDOM IN EUROPEAN UNION

Michael Fisher   Northern Standard  Thursday June 23rd  p.14

HEATHER HUMPHREYS TD

As voters go to the polls today in the six counties of Northern Ireland and Britain to decide on the future of the United Kingdom in the European Union, politicians from various parties in Monaghan and other border areas of the Republic have been urging a “Remain” vote. Minister for Regional Development Heather Humphreys spoke to farmers in Co. Down on Monday evening at an event in Castlewellan organised by SDLP MP Margaret Ritchie.

Minister Humphreys said facts have been drowned out by rhetoric during the referendum campaign. Unfounded allegations had been given the same status as evidence-based research. This had left many people feeling confused and unsure what to do.

As someone who lived on a farm just a couple of miles over the border, this was an issue that was very much close to her heart. Being part of the EU had brought many benefits to Northern Ireland. Britain and Ireland’s membership of the EU had been an important part of building better relationships and in underpinning the right of people in the North to be British, or Irish, or both. There had been hundreds of millions of pounds of PEACE funding. Access to the single market helped to create jobs.

The Minister said she believed, as did her government colleagues in Dublin, that the best interests of this island, north and south, were best served by having the United Kingdom at the heart of Europe – leading, not leaving. She did not underestimate the challenges a ‘leave’ vote could create. This was especially true from a trade perspective, especially for the Irish agri-food sector.

She was very conscious that along the border there had been a very complex set of relationships along the agri-food value chain. Much of the milk produced in the North was processed in the South. Cattle wee fattened in different farms on either side of the border before being slaughtered on one side or the other.

The Ulster Farmers Union had said that no compelling argument had been made that Northern Ireland agriculture would be better off outside the EU. Why risk changing a formula which, whilst imperfect, was delivering for farmers today? Rural communities were the lifeblood of Ulster and had been supported by the EU. Projects like the Rural Community Network or the ARC project in Fermanagh had helped to keep rural communities alive. They helped us take advantage of the stability and certainty which the Good Friday Agreement gave Northern Ireland.

The Minister continued: “Leaving the EU would leave Northern Ireland open to many risks. The Open University economist Leslie Budd concluded that leaving the EU could cost the Northern Ireland economy almost £1bn a year. He said that transaction costs for cross border trade could rise significantly and act as a disincentive to economic co-operation.

The reality would be that, under certain exit conditions, the UK would have the freedom to move away from EU policy. Given the degree of interconnectivity between agriculture and agri-business North and South, any differences would add to the cost and complexity of farming.

Under most scenarios, a British exit from the EU would see the return of some sort of border controls, customs or administrative procedures that would replace the current free movement of goods. One would have to anticipate a higher level of administrative controls than currently exists, with possibly a “hard” border and/or a Border Inspection Post. This was stated by Prime Minister David Cameron last week.

“Inevitably any restoration of the border, even a customs border, would add to farmers’ administrative costs. We all remember the old border in Newry. The queues of trucks. Who wants to go back to that?”, she said. “It is in your interest that the UK, and in particular Northern Ireland, remains in the EU”, she told the farmers.

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Monaghan/Fermanagh border outside Roslea. Pic: Michael Fisher

NIAMH SMYTH TD

Fianna Fáil TD for Cavan-Monaghan Niamh Smyth said voters in the North and across the UK had the chance to further relations North and South of the border if they voted to remain in the European Union.  The Brexit referendum was one of the most historic votes on this island as a vote to leave could have major economic, political and cultural consequences for the whole of Ireland.

Deputy Smyth commented, “The latest opinion polls show the Leave and Remain sides with very little between them.  While Fianna Fáil understands and respects the fact that this is a decision for Britain alone to decide, we cannot ignore the impact of a possible Brexit on Ireland.”

“A recent Standard and Poors report into Brexit stated that there would be “significant reverberations to the Irish economy should the UK leave the EU”.  Not only would a British exit from the EU have direct negative consequences for Ireland in the trade, travel, tourism, agri-food and energy sectors, there are also ramifications politically and culturally.”

“The political relationships North and South of the border, and between the British and Irish Governments, have been simplified by the fact that both are EU members, and this has allowed us to forge common bonds at EU level and to foster good working relationships.  A British exit from the EU would be an immense blow to our capacity to work together to secure lasting peace and stability in Northern Ireland.  The prospect of border controls cannot be ruled out and will most likely depend on the relationship that Britain establishes with the EU in the event of a Brexit.  This would deal a major blow to border counties like Cavan and Monaghan in terms of students and workers who can currently travel freely North and South.”

“Today marks a defining moment in Britain’s relationship with the EU, and it is imperative that those who are registered to vote do so.  Fianna Fáil believes a Brexit is not in the best interests of the island of Ireland and we would encourage people to vote to Remain in the EU”. Deputy Smyth said.

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Traffic crossing the Monaghan/Fermanagh border outside Roslea.  Pic: Michael Fisher

DECLAN KEARNEY MLA

Sinn Féin MLA and National Chairperson Declan Kearney also urged people to vote Remain in the EU referendum. Mr Kearney said: “It is very clear that a Brexit will be bad for the economy on the island, bad for farmers, bad for the environment, bad for workers and communities, bad for young people, and bad for Irish unity.”

“Our people in the North of Ireland should not allow the most reactionary elements of the British Tory party to set our political agenda or Ireland’s economic future and to drag us out of Europe. Brexit has the potential to entrench partition. We are committed to ending partition and don’t want to see the return of border checkpoints between north and south.”

“We have been very critical of the democratic deficit at the heart of the EU but the only way to change that is from within. We want to change the EU and build a progressive, prosperous and social Europe, which respects sovereignty. Sinn Féin is calling on everyone to Put Ireland First and vote Remain in the referendum”, Mr Kearney concluded.

THERESA MAY MP

Meanwhile the British Home Secretary Theresa May has warned of border controls in the event of a Brexit. She was speaking during a visit to Northern Ireland to campaign for a remain vote in the referendum.

Theresa May said it was “inconceivable” that there would not be changes to current arrangements between the North and the Republic if the UK voted to leave the EU. Ms May said that, while the Common Travel Area between the two countries existed prior to the EU, if there was a Brexit some form of control would be inevitable.

“It is inconceivable that a vote for Brexit would not have a negative impact on the North/South Border, bringing cost and disruption to trade and to people’s lives,” she said. “Put simply, Northern Ireland outside the EU could not prevent free movement and continue with an open North/South Border.”

Ms May also claimed the economic argument for Northern Ireland to vote remain was compelling. TOM KELLY, the Stronger In chairman in the North, said the Remain campaign was concentrating on getting people out to vote today. “I am very confident that we will win the argument,” he said.

ARLENE FOSTER MLA

However the Northern Ireland First Minister and DUP leader Arlene Foster is urging a ‘leave’ vote. She said she had listened to the arguments on all sides of the debate and after full and careful consideration had reached the conclusion that the right answer was to vote to leave the EU and to take back control of the UK’s future.

“Firstly there is the matter of the democratic principle. I am a devolutionist and believe decisions should be as close to the people as possible.  The European Union is pulling power and decision-making further away.  A return of powers would not simply flow to London but to Belfast too.”

“I believe in accountability. The decision-makers should have to answer to their voters.  The unelected European Commission plays the central and decisive role in EU policy and law making. European Court rulings can have far reaching consequences for us. The process of getting agreement between 28 countries and the use of qualified majority voting has given us a cumbersome process, where our interests can be and often are harmed.”

She continued: “Those who want to push towards a new superstate have already produced their plans and want to create more common institutions like an EU Army.  The golden opportunity to change was refused in the recent renegotiation. Secondly, we have the matter of costs and benefits. The UK as a whole has been a net contributor. The difference between what we pay in and get back has quadrupled in the last four years.”

“The UK has a huge trade deficit with the EU. Globally, the EU is falling behind.  The only continent with worse growth than continental Europe is Antartica.  The EU is not just holding us back but many other countries through its waste, bureaucracy and the straitjacket of the single currency.”

“Thirdly, I see the opportunities.  Many commentators have asked how as a former economy minister do I support a Vote Leave?  It was because of my experiences that I believe it is the right choice.  I have been across the world and I have seen the opportunities that are out there for the taking. I have seen Northern Ireland businesses take them up.  This fills me with confidence and the will to go after them.  I have also seen how power flowing down works best”, she said.

“This is why I am convinced that taking control of our future is the way forward for Northern Ireland and the United Kingdom. I must admit my resolve in this has grown and grown as the EU referendum campaign has developed.”

“Our constitutional future will be decided only by the ballot box. With devolution, people in Northern Ireland have more power over their elected representatives than ever before and we now have both a government and an opposition. This referendum holds true to that principle.”

“Finally, there is one threat to our peace process and one threat alone. Those paramilitary organisations who remain intent on killing are the threat to our peace. A threat the security forces deserve our praise and support for combating every day.

It is deeply offensive to present the people of Northern Ireland as ready to return to violence in the blink of an eye, especially over a democratic vote.  I know, I trust and I wholeheartedly believe we are better than that and those who have made such claims should know better as well.”

“I believe in the people of Northern Ireland. I believe in the businesses of Northern Ireland. I believe in what can they can achieve.  This is why I reject the absurd predictions and exaggerated threats. This is why I look to the future and the opportunities after the 23rd June. This is why I am asking you to Vote Leave.”

Polling stations in the North will remain open until 10pm this evening and it will be Friday when the outcome of the referendum is known.

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