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'Exit could lessen British influence on world's stage when it is needed most'

As June's vote on whether the UK remains in the EU draws closer, we hear from two leaders in business who put the case for and against a Brexit, while a manufacturing expert gives his verdict

By Maurice Pratt

Published 03/05/2016

Charles Flanagan
Charles Flanagan

On June 23, the people of the UK will be asked one question in the ballot box: 'Should the United Kingdom remain a member of the European Union or leave the European Union?'

While European Movement Ireland is not advocating how people should vote, we are strongly of the belief that a Brexit is in no one's best interest.

A European Union without the UK would be bad for Ireland, bad for Europe and bad for the UK itself. If the UK were to leave, a destabilising period of uncertainty would follow, particularly here in Ireland.

The London School of Economics has stated that Ireland would suffer the largest proportional loss of any country, other than the UK, should a decision to leave occur. The Economic and Social Research Institute (ESRI) estimates that trade flows between Ireland and the UK could be reduced on average by 20%.

With over €1.2bn (£1m) in goods and services traded between our two islands every week, anything that would negatively impact upon the smooth flow of people, goods, services and capital would not be welcome.

A recent Irish Business and Employers Confederation (Ibec) analysis of the consequences of a Brexit for Irish business stated that the sterling/euro exchange rate could fall by between 10% and 15%, impacting significantly on Irish firms selling into the UK market.

Meanwhile, the IMF has cut Britain's 2016 growth forecast from 2.2% to 1.9%, while listing the referendum and its outcome as a key risk to the world economy.

And what of Northern Ireland? As acting Minister for Foreign Affairs, Charles Flanagan, pointed out in the Dail, a UK withdrawal from the EU could bring into question our shared common travel area. The land border we share with the UK would become an EU external border, potentially undermining the normalisation of good north-south relations that have developed through much hard work and compromise, not least thanks to our common EU membership.

This could also have an impact on tourism, and issues could arise for the energy sector in areas such as security of supply and the single electricity market.

The EU is far from perfect - recent crises have shown us that, and certainly the potential for reform is great.

But a decision to leave would arguably lessen British influence on the world stage at a time when it is needed more than ever. It is much better to tackle the global challenges of security and climate change working together, within a reformed EU, than it is to face them alone.

Ireland and the UK are strong allies and close friends at the European table. A UK withdrawal could tilt the European balance of opinion in a way that may not best serve Irish interests.

The risk engendered by a potential unravelling of over 40 years of shared trade deals, market access, consumer protection, workers' rights, human rights, economic growth, peace and prosperity is not something to be taken lightly. But don't just take our word for it - people as diverse as US President Barack Obama, Michael O'Leary, Karren Brady, Arsene Wenger, Bill Gates and Emma Thompson have all spoken out on the benefits of the UK remaining a EU member.

A well-known Irish politician once said that a referendum is a means of getting an answer to a question that wasn't asked. The vote on their continued EU membership is ultimately a decision for the UK electorate. Whatever the outcome, it will be respected.

That said, we in Ireland have a particular interest, a special voice and a unique perspective in this debate. An estimated 500,000 Irish people based in the UK are eligible to vote on June 23, as are an estimated 120,000 British-born people living in the Republic. European Movement Ireland, through our #PhoneAFriend campaign, is urging them to register by the June 7 deadline and have their say on this crucial issue on Thursday, June 23.

Despite the imperfections and frustrations inherent in a community of 28 different member states, we are stronger together.

Maurice Pratt is chairman of the European Movement Ireland

Belfast Telegraph

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