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EU referendum: Financial shock of pullout would hit every single one of us

By Angela McGowan

Published 26/05/2016

The economic arguments for the UK remaining a member of the European Union are compelling, which seems to have been recognised by respondents to the Belfast Telegraph's survey
The economic arguments for the UK remaining a member of the European Union are compelling, which seems to have been recognised by respondents to the Belfast Telegraph's survey

The economic arguments for the UK remaining a member of the European Union are compelling, which seems to have been recognised by respondents to the Belfast Telegraph's survey.

Membership of the European Union means cheaper prices for local households, economic stability, higher levels of investment and consistent flows of regional subsidies into the economy such as CAP, Structural Funds and Peace and Reconciliation monies.

Membership also gives local companies access to tariff-free trade with half-a-billion European consumers.

In addition, Northern Ireland companies can trade with 50 other countries across the globe without tariffs because the EU has agreements with non-EU countries (22 of these are with Commonwealth countries).

Over the past few decades the European Union's regional policy has been instrumental to raising living standards in Northern Ireland by providing an EU Objective 1 support programme. During 2000 to 2006 alone, this programme saw €1.5bn injected into the local economy to improve skills, urban and social regeneration, rural development and the environment.

There is no Plan B for how we would trade, no certainty around what the new relationship would be like with the world's largest economic bloc.

The UK has not negotiated a trade deal since 1973, and examples from Switzerland and Canada tell us that these deals can take years to agree.

When countries face economic and political shocks investors flee in an attempt to protect their capital and earn a better return elsewhere.

The Governor of the Bank of England has alluded to the high probability of capital flowing out of the UK should a Brexit happen.

In foreign exchange markets, investors have already demonstrated that they are less likely to hold sterling when the risk of Brexit hangs over the country.

More:

Economic doubts and fears of being hit in pocket main reasons why we may not take leap in dark of a Brexit

EU Referendum: Dire warnings of Leave vote hit their mark  

Our people realise Brexit would be like turning clock back  

We have also seen UK commercial property transactions drop by 40% in the first quarter of this year as large investors cautiously hold off purchases.

Quite simply, investors are worried.

A weaker pound has implications for inflation too, as it drives up the price of imports. Over time the impact of weaker sterling will fall out of the year on year comparison, but in two years' time when the UK's formal EU exit would be complete, inflation will be hit again as trade tariffs set in.

The National Institute of Economic and Social Research estimates that inflation could easily rise by anywhere between 2.2 and 3.8 percentage points in 2017 if a Brexit happens.

With both investment levels and economic activity low, any rise in inflation will stress households further and present the Bank of England with a huge dilemma in terms of interest rate policy.

Recently we have seen HM Treasury and the Institute for Fiscal Studies agree that exiting the European Union will leave the UK's public finances worse off. As the economy slows and investment falls, tax receipts to Treasury will undoubtedly decline.

To balance the books public spending will likely be slashed further - more cuts will be needed and decisions will have to be made around where the axe will fall - health, education or infrastructure?

There is no doubt that a Brexit-related economic shock would impact on everyone, from farmers to older people across the UK.

What are the chances of HM Treasury choosing to maintain higher per capita public spending levels for Northern Ireland? In my opinion, it's highly unlikely.

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