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Why risks posed by Brexit don't add up for province

By John Simpson

Published 09/02/2016

'EU membership comes with many criticisms and also many benefits through decisions made on our collective behalf'
'EU membership comes with many criticisms and also many benefits through decisions made on our collective behalf'

The Prime Minister is right when he emphasises that a Brexit would be an irreversible single decision - no amendment, no second chance, no going back. First Minister Arlene Foster, emphasises the UK decision lies with the voters. However, other opinions from Dublin or Edinburgh are relevant, should be heard and taken into our assessment.

Personally, after 12 years working closely with some of the tortuous decision-making in the EU, my experience reflects how the EU functions: sometimes it can be frustratingly convoluted.

EU membership comes with many criticisms and also many benefits through decisions made on our collective behalf.

Not getting decisions that suit our preferences is inevitably the price of collective decision making. A gradual sequence of improvements and discretion to suit national policies has evolved.

A Brexit would seriously reduce UK influence on EU policy making. One of the important questions influencing the Brexit referendum decision is whether, with the EU continuing as a major player, the ability to influence international and European events and policies is better informed from within the EU, as a major EU member, or from without, acting as a single nation. Going it alone is risky at best.

The UK has already shown a capacity to get adaptations within the EU to suit the its circumstances.

The EU institutions have been responsive and flexible. Yes, the UK is a full member enjoying the 'common market', the trading advantages, the rules to standardise technical aspects of goods and services, the rules of fair trading avoiding unacceptable State Aids and ways of being a good European neighbour and supporting more needy areas.

All that is significant and positive.

The UK is accused of being too selective a player. The UK has opted out of the Social Contract, opted out of the Schengen arrangements, and stood aside from the creation and operation of the eurozone (but seeks protection from unwelcome by-products of that currency union). In that sense, the UK has demonstrated that it can be selectively anti-communitaire.

If the majority in the UK vote to leave the EU, in the resulting uncertain relationships, there will be pressure to retain the advantages and avoid being side-lined. If good-will is lost because of a Brexit, retaining the advantages may be doubtful.

There is an agenda of questions and uncertainties about the outcome of a Brexit. An outcome that is overstated (both ways) is the manipulation of the impact of changes in the EU budget finances. In the wider setting of economic, environmental and social welfare, the budget impact will be modest.

Selectively, two critical policy areas are important for Northern Ireland: the impact on farming and farming policies and the impact on Northern Ireland as a location for international investment. Both of these critical economic influences are at serious risk of a negative reaction.

The Brexit option would presumably be gradually implemented later in this decade.

Just as the company taxation playing field across this island is scheduled to become more manageable, Brexit will introduce a new distinction between the Republic of Ireland and Northern Ireland. American and European investors would have a choice: locate in UK outside the EU, or locate in the Republic of Ireland within the EU. Does this present a risk that the advantage of the long sought company taxation change will be eroded before it has time to be effective?

For the farming industry, the risks are that support akin to the Single Farm Payment system of the CAP would not be a UK priority and would be eroded.

More critically, the ability to sell farm produce to neighbouring countries could be subject to possible market management policies. The Irish border could become a barrier to inter-EU trade.

Given the choice, Brexit should be avoided.

Belfast Telegraph

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