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George Osborne: Northern Ireland would take £1.3bn hit and lose 14,000 jobs if we pull out of EU

By George Osborne

Published 07/06/2016

Appeal: George Osborne
Appeal: George Osborne

On June 23 the UK will vote on whether to remain in or leave the European Union. It is a choice that will shape our country for a generation - bigger than any Assembly or general election.

Northern Ireland, which I have been visiting for the last two days, will perhaps be more profoundly affected than any other part of the UK by the outcome.

There's so much at stake. Working together, we have made enormous progress here in recent years.

It's among the best-performing regions of the UK when it comes to job creation and there are more opportunities than ever for the next generation.

It is now beyond any doubt that there would be a profound economic shock across the UK if we vote to leave.

No trading relationship we might negotiate could be better than membership of the single market - the world's biggest free trade area, allowing both consumers and traders to access a market of 500 million people. There would be less trade, less investment, fewer jobs, higher prices and lower wages. Frankly, that's just common sense.

Even people in the Leave campaign admit it. Some actually argue a hit to people's jobs and livelihoods is a price worth paying - something I profoundly disagree with. It's increasingly clear that the Leave campaign is making it up as they go along and has no plan.

In recent days they've admitted that they expect Britain would still be negotiating an EU exit in 2020 - meaning years of damaging uncertainty, all in order to end up with a worse deal than we have now. Northern Ireland relies more heavily on EU funding for agriculture than other parts of the UK, receives money from the EU as part of the peace process, and shares a land border with the Republic of Ireland, which, of course, would remain an EU member state.

As I explained on my visit to Warrenpoint yesterday, our analysis is that the shock of an exit would mean a hit to the economy in Northern Ireland of £1.3bn over two years, 14,000 job losses, a hit to wages of hundreds of pounds a year on average and a hit to the typical house price of £18,000.

Because of the hit to the public finances, which independent experts suggest would run into tens of billions of pounds a year, we'd have far less to spend on schools, hospitals, roads and support for farming and manufacturing.

If you don't want to listen to the Treasury, listen to the Governor of the Bank of England; the head of the International Monetary Fund; the independent OECD; the respected Institute for Fiscal Studies, the President of the United States, indeed every single one of our allies and trading partners - they all agree Britain would be poorer, and permanently so, if we vote to leave.

It's also inevitable that there would be changes to border arrangements. Several prominent Leave campaigners have admitted this, and those who don't are not being straight with people. If the border becomes the UK's frontier with the rest of Europe, there will have to be Customs checks, tariffs on goods - and if restrictions on the movement of people from the EU to the UK are imposed, too, as Leave campaigners suggest, then border controls as well. This will hit the economies of both Northern Ireland and the Republic. The OECD estimates that the documentation and delays involved in crossing a Customs border can increase the costs of trade by up to 24% of the value of traded goods.

Other studies have found evidence that border controls reduce trade and affect living standards, even when relations between nations on either side are entirely friendly. For instance, the border between the US and Canada is estimated to reduce trade by 44%. None of this is a price worth paying. If the polls are to be believed - including one recently for this newspaper - Northern Ireland is possibly the most pro-EU part of the UK. So, I urge people to turn out in force here and vote Remain on June 23.

And to those who are thinking of backing Leave, I say this: if there's any doubt in your mind, stop and think. Ask yourselves whether it's worth the risk for the next generation. There's no doubt in my mind: we are stronger, safer and better off inside a reformed EU.

Belfast Telegraph

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