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The consequences for NI, both economic and political, don't bear thinking about

By Alban Maginness

Published 25/06/2016

The first victim of the Brexit victory was David Cameron, who swiftly resigned in the immediate aftermath of the official Euro referendum results.

Although it was the honourable thing for him to do, many will regard him as the author of his own misfortune in bringing about an unnecessary referendum in the first place. A reckless tactical move in the last general election to outfox Nigel Farage and UKIP. It worked, of course, thereby returning Cameron as PM, but now with hindsight at a disastrous cost for him personally and Northern Ireland more particularly.

The consequences for NI are very bad. First, economically it will undermine future foreign direct investment and emphasise even more the peripherality of our region. It gives our southern neighbours an even greater decisive advantage in attracting foreign investors.

Putting it simply, why would an new American firm now invest in Newry, whenever they could invest in Dundalk and have unimpeded access to the lucrative European market? Our farmers will most certainly lose out in European support and their present access to the European market.

The same is true for our successful and ever-expanding agrifood sector. Unfortunately they have been seriously disadvantaged by a UK-wide decision to leave ,which was opposed by 56% of the NI electorate. Unusually this was a clear cross-community majority, which vindicates Mike Nesbitt's progressive decision to support the Remain campaign. But the major negative impact will be on our current political settlement arising out of the Good Friday Agreement, which is firmly set within the context of the European Union.

The arrangements between north and outh and between the UK and Ireland are posited on both political jurisdictions being and working cooperatively within the EU. The fact that both states are fellow members of the EU has assisted enormously in bringing about genuine political goodwill over the decades.

The basic freedom to move freely north and south and between Britain and Ireland without any visible controls has helped to bring in a new era of friendship and togetherness.

With the inevitable reintroduction of travel controls and trading restrictions there will be an erosion and possible destruction of that goodwill and cooperation. We will move backwards instead of forwards in our relations between north and south and between Ireland and Britain. Despite the imperfections of our present politics there is at least a degree of certainty, which could be undermined in the future.

All of this will impact badly on our internal politics, recreating further ill-will and friction that could undermine the stability of the Assembly and Executive. Years of patient work in the wake of the Good Friday Agreement in building stability and confidence could be seriously undermined by this ill-judged UK-wide decision.

Within that context there is the potential for the men of violence to intervene.

In addition, it is clear that the SNP, having achieved majority support for Remain in Scotland, will bide their time to let the leave decision bite and hurt and then go for another independence referendum. Given the sorry mess that we are in, it might be much easier, in say a year's time, for the Scottish First Minister, Nicola Sturgeon to persuade the Scottish people to go for independence and thereby undermine the whole structure of the UK.

Any decision by the Scots to go for independence will inevitably impact here in NI, putting the stability and security of the Executive in doubt.

It will further complicate things if the Scots apply for and are admitted into full EU membership for Scotland. While this scenario might not have been seen as credible a few months ago, now post-referendum things have been changed so utterly, that anything could happen. And in this situation where might our politics go? Uncertainty replacing certainty, will allow those with ill intent to maliciously exploit the situation.

One possible solution to the whole mess is that Boris Johnson as the new PM, will, on taking office, renegotiate with the EU and if successful call a new UK-wide referendum. Just remember what happened south of the border over the Lisbon Treaty. Anything is now possible.

  • Alban Maginness is a former SDLP MLA

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