Belfast Telegraph

Monday 22 September 2014

Many problems are attached to idea of detaching from EU

Farmers could be affected by a change in the UK's EU status

Membership of the European Union (EU) is back on the political and business agenda. However, the agenda for change is imprecise and the outcome could be risky.

One of the implications of the divided opinions at Westminster is that the future role of the UK in the EU is now in doubt. If the UK wants to renegotiate, how far might that disengagement proceed before the other 26 member states said that the repatriation of key topics was not acceptable? Then the UK would be faced with an unwelcome take-it-or- leave-it choice.

An open-ended agenda for repatriation of government powers is too imprecise. The choice in a three-way referendum was only likely to create an unworkable outcome. A repatriation of authority would stand a better chance of being accepted by the other 26 states if specific proposals were identified and evaluated in a preparatory period.

The agenda for any possible repatriation of EU powers is very unclear. Even if a referendum is desirable, the proposal that was debated at Westminster was a form of 'blind man's bluff'.

If the UK becomes a semi-detached member of the EU, there is a risk that business investment will be deflected more towards countries fully integrated with the EU.

In competition for external investment, against the Republic of Ireland, Northern Ireland would be more disadvantaged.

The threat of the UK being a semi-detached EU member could damage incoming foreign direct investment prospects more than any benefit from a reduced rate of corporation tax.

A second major issue could emerge in a renegotiation of the Common Agriculture Policy (CAP).

Strong interest groups, especially in England, argue that the CAP is too expensive and too interventionist.

Farmers here would be sensitive to proposals which might threaten the scale of the Single Farm Payments. Would Northern Ireland MPs support a UK request to back out of all or part of the CAP?

There is less uncertainty for the fishing sector. The local industry would hope to regain control of local fishing waters. Would the Irish and French governments be willing to accept this?

The possible tensions in industrial and farming policies show the uncertainties of a semi-detached UK from the EU in terms of north-south relations.

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