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Heavyweights lock horns in Belfast for cut and thrust of referendum debate

By John Mulgrew

Published 04/06/2016

Political heavyweights from the Remain and Leave campaigns clashed during an intense Brexit debate in Belfast.

Leading the Remain charge, former Northern Ireland Secretary Lord Mandelson warned business leaders that leaving the EU was a "great leap into the dark" and Northern Ireland's opportunity to prosper would be "hugely and severely set back".

But Conservative MEP Daniel Hannan said the EU was now "obsolete".

"We are paying for the privilege to be a member of the only declining (area)," he said.

"Uniquely, it's the first time we have contrived an institution which is not just undemocratic, but anti-democratic."

The grandeur of the Belfast Harbour Commissioners' building was the backdrop for yesterday's debate - hosted by Manufacturing NI - which also featured DUP MEP Diane Dodds, Sinn Fein MEP Martina Anderson, economist Dr Thia Hennessy, and Dennis Campbell Kennedy, former head of the European Commission office here.

Manufacturing NI chief executive Stephen Kelly said the EU debate was key, and that his industry directly and indirectly supported 214,000 jobs here.

Despite the majority of economists taking the contrary line, Mr Hannan said he thought Northern Ireland's GDP would increase post-Brexit.

Meanwhile, Ms Anderson said Mr Hannan was "delusional" over claims there would be no return to border posts.

Mr Campbell Kennedy said: "The shock of a re-erected fiscal border could be even more damaging symbolically than the impact on trade."

Despite farmers receiving the bulk of the EU money that comes here in the form of subsidies, Mrs Dodds said: "Farmers are fed up with regulation... they feel the EU has let them down.

"We will free ourselves from the shackles of that (regulation)."

Belfast Telegraph

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