Europe Minister insists Brexit will make us less safe after Brussels terror
The Government's Europe Minister has said Northern Ireland would be safer staying in the EU after the Brussels terror attacks.
David Lidington made the comments yesterday while visiting Stormont to argue the case for remaining in Europe to local politicians and business leaders.
Speaking to the Belfast Telegraph, Mr Lidington said the ease with which security agencies in the EU could share intelligence provided the best protection against terrorist threats.
"Citizens here in Northern Ireland and throughout the UK are going to be safer if we stay in the EU," he added.
Mr Lidington pointed out that while extradition of criminals in Europe in the past could have taken years, it now happens within weeks.
Police can also more easily and quickly share evidence such as fingerprint and DNA files.
"If you're outside the EU you can try to negotiate an arrangement, but you're going to be at the back of the queue," he said.
"That's why the Chief Constable of the PSNI and his predecessor, Sir Hugh Orde, are saying it is in our security interests to stay in this organisation. We have the best of both worlds.
"We don't have to implement justice measures that don't fit our legal traditions here, but we can be in those that make a real positive difference to the safety of the people of this country."
Mr Lidington also argued the case for local businesspeople to vote to remain in the EU.
Earlier this week a number of business leaders in Northern Ireland said they were anxious about what would happen after the June vote.
Peter Burnside, managing director of consultancy company BDO, described the debate "terribly ill-informed".
But the minister said staying in Europe made Northern Ireland more appealing to foreign investors.
He also insisted that there would be less European red tape for small businesses in the future.
For the agriculture sector, Mr Lidington said the uncertainty that a Brexit would bring would be unacceptable.
He argued: "Nobody can guarantee that if the UK leaves the EU our farmers and food processors would be able to sell their produce tariff-free into the EU.
"There would be some other EU countries with big farm sectors that would be only too delighted to impose tariffs in those circumstances.
"Nor can we guarantee that farm subsidies would continue in the same way."
Local politicians have been critical of the June 23 date of the referendum, which is less than two months after the Assembly elections on May 5.
There was concern that having the polls so close together would be confusing to voters, but Mr Lidington dismissed that, saying he had "absolute confidence in the intelligence of the people of Northern Ireland".
"I'm sure they will take their decisions about how they vote in the Stormont Assembly and seven weeks after that, nearly two months, they will come to a considered view of the UK's place in Europe," he added.