'Brexit': Backlash from EU exit would hit Northern Ireland hardest
Northern Ireland could be hit harder than almost anywhere else in the UK if it exited the European Union, a new report has said.
As one of the UK's poorer regions, with a heavy reliance on manufacturing exports, a so-called Brexit could affect the economy here significantly unless a free-trade deal is reached.
The Centre for European Reform claims that pulling out of the EU could result in UK manufactured goods being hit by trade tariffs.
Income in Northern Ireland is around 78% of the EU average, according to regional inequality statistics.
And it relies heavily on export trade to the Republic - with sales south of the border making up the bulk of our exports.
The report's author John Springford said: "Regions with manufacturing sectors that make up a large proportion of their economies look to be most at risk, and since these tend to be poorer, an exit from the EU risks making Britain an even more unequal place."
It warns that EU trade tariffs - which could be applied to UK goods and services following an exit - could amount to tens of millions for Northern Ireland, having a "significant impact" on export sales.
The North-East of England is the only region which the report claims would suffer more than Northern Ireland - with London the least affected region in the UK.
The study also notes that the regions with the most to lose economically, such as the West Midlands and the North-East, tend to have the highest levels of euroscepticism, according to opinion polls.
Stephen Kelly of Manufacturing NI said any restrictions or trade tariffs could have a "huge consequential impact" on manufacturing here.
"Some 55% of our manufacturing exports goes to the eurozone - largely to the Republic," he said.
"And with that, any restriction to trade would have a huge consequential impact on our manufacturing.
"The Northern Ireland economy is a border economy, goods travel in both directions - anything stopping that would be detrimental, not just to exports, but also to employment.
"There is no other part of the UK that has a land border with the eurozone.
"The free trade and movement of goods is a very positive thing for Northern Ireland business," he added.
Mr Springford acknowledged that some UK manufacturers might manage to absorb the costs of tariffs by making efficiency gains or increasing sales to other parts of the world.
But he also pointed out that since much of UK trade is in intermediate goods by multinational firms, it could find it difficult to redirect trade away from Europe.
Just last month another report warned a Brexit could cost the Northern Ireland economy a shocking £1bn a year.
And it's cross-border business which could be seriously hit, business bodies warned.
Meanwhile, one economist also said Britain leaving the EU could transform the Irish border into a major international frontier manned by passport checkpoints and customs control.