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George Osborne claims Brexit would trigger economic shock for vulnerable Northern Ireland

Pro-EU Chancellor hits campaign trail in Belfast and issues dire prediction for jobs and cross-border trade following Brexit

By Cate McCurry

Brexit would trigger a "profound economic shock" in Northern Ireland and result in an inevitable hardening of the Irish border, Chancellor George Osborne has warned.

In his first official visit to Northern Ireland since 2011, the Chancellor highlighted a new Treasury analysis and suggested unemployment would rise by 14,000 here over two years if the UK left the European Union, with 2,000 added to the youth unemployment figure.

He further claimed that the impact of the shock from leaving the EU and the free trade single market could equate to a £1.3bn reduction in the size of the Northern Ireland economy by 2018, with house prices falling by £18,000 over the same period.

During a whistlestop tour of Northern Ireland and the Republic of Ireland, the Chancellor warned of the impact on cross-border trade, warning that border and custom checks will have to be implemented in the event of Brexit.

He visited Belfast Harbour yesterday where he briefly met and spoke to local campaigners from the NI Stronger IN group. He said the pro-EU campaign was "going well" and that he was happy to be in Belfast.

Dressed casually in a light blue shirt, the Tory MP walked along the harbour flanked by volunteers from the pro-EU group who held a 'vote remain' banner.

The Chancellor went on to claim that Northern Ireland is 'particularly vulnerable' to the economic shock that would follow an EU exit.

He also urged people to ensure they are registered to vote ahead of tomorrow's deadline.

"At the moment, Northern Ireland is among the best regions of the UK when it comes to creating jobs. It's a great success story that I am confident we can build on if the UK remains in a reformed EU,' the Chancellor said.

"But if the UK votes to leave, every credible independent voice agrees there would be a profound economic shock that would hurt people's jobs, livelihoods and living standards."

Mr Osborne also said it was "inevitable" there would be changes to the border.

He added that a report by MPs on the Northern Ireland Affairs Committee claimed that in the event of a Brexit, the future of the Common Travel Area (CTA) would be "put into question".

"Currently, people can move freely between Northern Ireland and the Republic of Ireland because of the CTA, an informal arrangement.

"Maintaining the CTA with Ireland in the EU and the UK out would undermine the UK's ability to halt the free movement of people from other parts of the EU, as the Leave campaign proposes.

"With the UK outside the EU customs union, routine checks of goods crossing the border with Ireland would be needed to enforce the Government's trade policy.

"There would also have to be routine checks of passengers to enforce rules such as the personal duty free allowances on goods that individuals could take across the border.

"The OECD estimates that crossing a customs border, documentation and other delays can increase the transaction costs of trade by up to 24 per cent of the value of traded goods.

"Other studies have found evidence that border checks reduce trade and affect living standards."

Meanwhile, St Mary's University is hosting a Brexit debate in west Belfast tomorrow. Guest panellists include Irish economist, David McWilliams, Sinn Fein MLA Michelle Gildernew, Vote Leave Northern Ireland organiser Lee Reynolds of the DUP, and Irwin Armstrong, also from the Leave campaign. It's being held at the University's campus on the Falls Road and starts at 7.30pm.

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