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Let's not turn EU poll into battle of two Tories: McGuinness

By Noel McAdam

Published 01/03/2016

The historic debate on the UK leaving the EU is threatening to become a "Punch and Judy" show between David Cameron and Boris Johnston, according to the Deputy First Minister.

Martin McGuinness also told the Assembly that the Prime Minister had been "hell bent" on holding the referendum on June 23.

The senior Sinn Fein MLA said a joint letter warning against the date - and backed by the devolved administrations in Scotland and Wales - had "not been favourably received" by the PM.

But he agreed with the SDLP's Alex Attwood that Mr Cameron's visit to Northern Ireland at the weekend showed that the province remains vital to achieving a result to 'stay in'.

Mr Attwood argued: "It seems that many farmers, many in small and medium-sized enterprises, many in the CBI, and many in the community and voluntary sector - indeed, a critical mass of people in Northern Ireland - are very clearly in favour of staying in Europe."

Mr McGuinness replied: "I think that the damage that would be done to us in the North and to the island of Ireland by any exit from Europe makes a compelling case for staying in."

Quizzed by a number of MLAs, he went on: "There is a very real danger that the debate will become a Punch and Judy show between the British Prime Minister and Boris Johnson."

He added: "The debate is important because the implications of an exit from Europe, for us in the North and on the island of Ireland, are very profound indeed."

TUV leader Jim Allister quipped it was a novelty to see Mr McGuinness campaigning on a 'Brits in' platform and asked whether Mr McGuinness "at least acknowledges the fact that every penny that we receive from Europe is just some of our own money coming back to us, because we in this nation - the United Kingdom - are a huge net contributor?"

Mr McGuinness replied: "I acknowledge that all sorts of figures have been bandied about in recent times to reinforce the argument of certain individuals."

Any exit would be "hugely detrimental" to farmers, business, the universities, community and voluntary sector "as well as to the island of Ireland."

"My interest relates to what is good for every one of Ireland's 32 counties, including the six that reside here in the North," the Sinn Fein man added.

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