EU referendum: Brexit could cost Northern Ireland 37,000 jobs, claims CBI boss
Tens of thousands of new jobs for Northern Ireland could be at risk if the UK leaves the EU, business leaders warned yesterday.
Tomorrow, people across the country will make their decision in what is being called the most important vote in a generation.
The turnout for the referendum is expected to be the biggest since the vote to approve the Good Friday Agreement.
And with just hours of campaigning left, Remain and Leave campaigners remain bitterly divided over the potential economic impact of a Brexit.
The Confederation of British Industry (CBI) argued up to 50,000 jobs in the province were linked to the EU Single Market, and that there was the potential to create another 36,800.
Nigel Smyth, CBI Northern Ireland director, said a Brexit would mean "pulling the rug from under our economy".
"The UK's membership of the EU has been of enormous benefit to Northern Ireland for over 40 years," he added.
"Some of the key sectors that lie at the very heart of communities across the region, from manufacturing and food processing, to financial services and retail, rely on our membership of the Single Market.
"Virtually every leading economist agrees that leaving the EU would likely cause an economic shock, creating uncertainty and damaging Northern Ireland's prospects."
The CBI cited Treasury figures as to where the new jobs would come from. The positions are said to include more than 3,000 jobs in the manufacturing sector, 5,000 in distribution and retail, and nearly 7,000 in banking.
Mr Smyth also claimed that the Executive's plan to reduce corporation tax to 12.5% was a major incentive for foreign investors, but it would be jeopardised by losing access to the Single Market.
In stark contrast, businessman Irwin Armstrong, whose Ballymena-based CIGA Healthcare exports medical kits, said it would be "unthinkable" and an "exercise in self harm" for the EU not to negotiate a free trade deal with the UK after a Brexit.
"Northern Ireland's economic future depends upon the ability of businesses to trade globally, rather than regionally," he argued. "Brexit has the potential to open the door for local companies to take a global approach, because we can be part of a UK that dismantles trade barriers with emerging economies.
"If only the Single Market was a true single market, rather than a means to create a regulatory quagmire that stifles growth."
The Northern Ireland Electoral Office said 1,260,955 people were eligible to vote tomorrow.
A recent poll for the Belfast Telegraph predicted that 68% of those eligible are expected to vote - around 857,000 people. This is nearly 100,000 less than the 951,845 people who voted in the 1998 Good Friday Agreement.
Bookmakers Paddy Power are confident of Northern Ireland choosing to stay in the EU, with betting odds of 1/14 in favour of a remain vote compared to 6/1 for an exit vote.
Campaigners on both sides of the close debate are now working at full tilt to persuade undecided voters to join their side.
The DUP, which supports a Brexit, took out an expensive front and back page advert in the Metro newspaper in London, which is not distributed in Northern Ireland.
North Antrim DUP MLA Mervyn Storey said the price was worth paying. "Northern Ireland hasn't been on the periphery of this campaign," he added. "The DUP has been a central player in the campaign, and therefore it's conceivable to take that advert in that particular publication."
Leave campaigner Lee Reynolds said people had a chance to get out of "an inward-looking, bureaucratic, wasteful, cumbersome and unreformable EU".
"What a Leave vote offers is more powers for Belfast, more money for our priorities, more trade with the world and a fairer immigration system," he added.
Student unions in Northern Ireland and the Republic, meanwhile, threw their support behind staying in Europe.
"The European Union has consistently helped to shape a more stable, cohesive and prosperous society in Northern Ireland," NUS-USI president in Northern Ireland Fergal McFerran said.
"When students and young people go to the polls on Thursday, I urge them to do so reflecting on the vast array of opportunities that our membership of the EU secures - not just for our generation, but for generations to come too."
In the Republic, USI president Kevin Donoghue urged anyone with a vote in Britain to vote Remain, saying a Brexit would have a negative ripple effect throughout Ireland.