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David Cameron beats Boris Johnson to punch as he urges Northern Ireland to vote to stay in EU

By Noel McAdam

Published 27/02/2016

PM
PM
Nigel Farage
Boris Johnson

David Cameron is to visit Northern Ireland today ahead of a barrage of big-hitters as the in/out Euro referendum campaign hots up.

The pro-EU Prime Minister will spell out the benefits of the province remaining part of the union in a series of meetings and photo-calls.

Both Boris Johnson and Nigel Farage - two of Mr Cameron's main opponents in the intensifying campaign - are expected to visit over the next few days.

After an early start this morning, the Prime Minister is due to travel to a number of locations in north Antrim - but be back in London by mid-afternoon.

Mr Cameron is here to rally support for the UK to stay in the European Union, while his close friend Mr Johnson and Mr Farage want the country to vote to leave in the referendum on June 23.

The PM pledged to visit Northern Ireland at an early stage in the four-month run-in to the big vote, as the only part of the UK with a land border with the Irish Republic.

He fell foul of First Minister Arlene Foster and Deputy First Minister Martin McGuinness, as well as their counterparts in Scotland and Wales, after refusing to change the referendum date - which is just six weeks after the Assembly election.

There are concerns the two major elections running so close together could affect turnout at the polls.

Mrs Foster and Mr McGuinness, along with First Minister of Scotland Nicola Sturgeon and First Minister of Wales Carwyn Jones, also warned the juxtaposition "risks confusing issues at a moment when clarity is required".

Mr Cameron, however, was said to believe any date after June 23 would have meant running the plebiscite in September instead, with the summer in between.

His visit today comes just two days after an Ulster Unionist delegation headed by leader Mike Nesbitt met Mr Cameron in Downing Street.

Sinn Fein, Alliance and the SDLP are campaigning to remain in the EU and the DUP is in favour of withdrawal, but the UUP is holding a special executive meeting next Saturday to decide a formal position.

Mr Nesbitt had already indicated, however, he is in favour of staying in.

"All things being equal, I would hope to recommend that we stay in," he said several months ago.

This week, he added: "We appear to be the only one of the five main parties who are interested in listening to what people have to say about one of the most important decisions we will ever make as a nation."

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