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Brexit 'would damage brittle Northern Ireland peace process'

Published 28/04/2016

Former secretary of state Peter Mandelson has warned of economic, political and social fallout in Northern Ireland as a result of Brexit
Former secretary of state Peter Mandelson has warned of economic, political and social fallout in Northern Ireland as a result of Brexit

Northern Ireland's delicate peace process would be damaged if the UK votes to leave the European Union, a defence think-tank has warned.

Politicians at Westminster and Stormont have also failed to address the risks to the region's economy and security, according to the Royal United Services Institute (RUSI).

In a new report published in the RUSI Journal, Edward Burke said: "Northern Ireland, with its 300-mile land border, its fractured political structures, weak economy and enduring terrorist threat, requires urgent attention in the debate on a potential Brexit.

"While the debate focuses on trade and English and Scottish issues, inattention in the case of Northern Ireland, particularly on Brexit, is complacent and dangerous; Northern Ireland's departure from conflict remains brittle."

RUSI has argued that crucial EU funding for economic and specialised peace programmes could be hard to replace in the event of a Brexit, putting at risk years of cross-community and mental health work.

Joint EU membership has also helped underpin the Good Friday Agreement which ended decades of sectarian violence in the region, it is claimed.

According to the report, r emoving a European dimension that "softens the border" between the north and south of Ireland may upset the delicate equilibrium painstakingly constructed since the 1998 peace accord.

Mr Burke added: "A ny re-imposition of border controls on the UK's only land border to restrict 'back-door' immigration from the EU or the introduction of enhanced customs inspections, hindering cross-border trade, would likely see a further deterioration in Northern Ireland's already parlous economic fortunes."

Northern Ireland's two biggest political parties have taken opposite views on the contentious Brexit issue.

The Democratic Unionists have pledged their support for a withdrawal while Sinn Fein has been campaigning to stay within the EU.

Former Secretary of State Peter Mandelson, who supports the 'In' campaign said: "The risk to Northern Ireland from leaving the EU is wide-ranging and deeply worrying, economically, politically and socially, and that risk must be recognised by the rest of the United Kingdom."

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