EU referendeum: Voting to leave Europe would be 'act of wanton destruction' for Northern Ireland
A vote to leave the European Union would wreak havoc on Northern Ireland's economy, according to a former head of the World Trade Organisation.
In an outspoken defence of the EU, Peter Sutherland said Brexit would be "an act of wanton destruction" as far as the province is concerned.
It would suffer much more than the rest of the UK, the former European Commissioner and past director-general of the World Trade Organisation added.
"Those who invest in Ireland, north or south, are doing so because it provides them with the manufacturing base to sell to the European Union," Mr Sutherland told the BBC's Sunday Politics show.
"The uncertainty, the borders created by Britain leaving and the inevitable period of prolonged negotiation will lead to a drying up of investment.
"It is, to me, incredible that any political force in Northern Ireland could conceivably consider (the UK leaving the EU) could be a good thing for Northern Ireland."
Mr Sutherland also said leaving the EU would "create a border control requirement that we had thought banished to history".
He added: "If in some perverted way there is an ideological desire to recreate that border, it's an act that would be incredibly foolish and very damaging."
Former Alliance minister Stephen Farry also warned that a vote to leave the EU would make any moves to lower the rate of corporation tax pointless.
Mr Farry described it as 'a cruel irony' that just when Northern Ireland was on the brink of lowering corporation tax, a Brexit vote would automatically cancel out any expected benefits.
He said: "In all the meetings I have had with a range of potential investors, both large and small, I have never come across anyone arguing that Northern Ireland and the UK would be better off outside the European Union. For some, it was not a huge issue, but for others it was fundamental."
"The notion that the UK would quickly create its own trade and access to market agreements with Europe and indeed the other main global economies is extremely naïve."
However, Northern Ireland Secretary Theresa Villiers said a Brexit would be "great for Northern Ireland".
"It enables us to take back control of our own trade policies so that we can make deals not just with the European Union, but also with countries around the world where they have huge markets," she told Sunday Politics, "those could create jobs and opportunities for young people.
"There's no reason why we can't press ahead pretty rapidly with trade deals with the rest of the world. It is the EU that's failing economically, not us."