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Brexit: Voting Remain is the only way of achieving peaceful and prosperous future

After 30 years of the Troubles, are we really considering creating another barrier on the island of Ireland by backing an EU pullout, asks Richard Needham

Published 30/05/2016

HMS Caroline, the last survivor, will play host to the commemoration of the centenary of the Battle of Jutland
HMS Caroline, the last survivor, will play host to the commemoration of the centenary of the Battle of Jutland

In July 1914 the Kaiser sent his brother Prince Henry to England to discover what Britain's response would be to an outbreak of war on the Continent should Germany invade France. Britain was convulsed by three all-absorbing crises: trade union disruption in mining and transport; violence by militant suffragettes, and possible civil war in Ireland.

Prince Henry stayed at Windsor Castle and sought his cousin's advice. The King said he thought it unlikely Britain would be drawn into European war. Unfortunately, Prince Henry asked the wrong man.

Winston Churchill described the scene on the afternoon of July 24, 1914 in his book The World In Crisis: "The Cabinet on Friday sat long revolving the Irish problem. The discussion had reached its inconclusive end when the quiet grave tone of Sir Edward Grey's voice were heard reading the Austrian note to Serbia - the note was an ultimatum as had never been penned in modern times - it seemed absolutely impossible that any State in the world would accept it. The parishes of Fermanagh & Tyrone faded in the mists and squalls of Ireland and a strange new light began immediately to fall and grow upon the map of Europe." Two weeks later Britain declared war on Germany.

This summer is the centenary of the Somme, and also in Belfast we will commemorate the centenary of the Battle of Jutland on HMS Caroline - the last ship afloat that fought in one of the greatest naval engagement in world history.

People are coming from across Ireland and the Commonwealth to a commemoration of the Irish sailor as a heritage visitor attraction. The Irish Navy will be there, together with the Royal Navy and the families and dependants of those who fought on Caroline.

I am immensely proud that my great uncle, the 4th Earl of Kilmorey, was her Commodore for more than 10 years. He was also honorary Admiral of the Ulster Navy, whose one ship was a minesweeper that he named after himself.

Now, in a very different time, we are debating whether or not to stay in Europe. I carry some baggage. I am married to a girl from Hamburg who lost a father and uncle on the Eastern Front, and my father and grandfather were professional soldiers wounded in both wars.

My great-uncle was killed in France in 1916. My parents lived and are buried in Florence, my brother married an Italian and my great-grandfather on my mother's side was a Hamburg rabbi. So, maybe I am inclined to a European perspective.

But most central to my beliefs are my experiences as Minister for the Economy in Northern Ireland during the Eighties and early Nineties.

After all the years of the Troubles, after all the strides that we have made socially and economically across the North, are we now going to create another new barrier on the island of Ireland?

There remains too much poverty, deprivation and morbidity - too many young people unemployed, too much division in society, not least in education.

In what way, therefore, is leaving the EU going to help or improve our fortunes? During my time as minister we received millions and millions of additional European funding.

Laganside, as an example, would never have got going without support from Europe. Do we really want to rely on the Treasury as our only source of external funding?

By and large the main British political parties don't give a fig about Ulster. We are a constant drain on their resources. Why do you believe the last Labour government spent more on increasing the percentage spend on the NHS in Scotland than Northern Ireland?

Does anyone really believe the claim that money saved from the EU budget would find its way back here rather than to more "deserving" areas in the UK, like the "Northern Powerhouse"? Does any farmer think that they will receive the same level of support that they currently enjoy under the Common Agricultural Policy?

Britain is an urban nation - cheap food will always come before support for farmers. Do we want to go back to the dog-and-stick days of the 1930s?

Are we going to get more foreign investment if we're outside the EU? Even with the introduction of lower corporation tax, would investors chose here or the South?

Just as we are achieving a level playing field, why put ourselves at risk for no certain gain? Do we want to become the outpost of an outpost?

Of course there are problems with the EU. The fishermen have more than legitimate grumbles about quotas, the budget has not been signed off and the parliament moves between Brussels and Strasbourg at ridiculous expense. Migration is an existential threat to all. There is too much petty regulation.

But will we solve these issues by leaving? European regulations will still dominate us as they will set the terms of trade whatever Lords Lamont and Lawson might say.

We are not part of the Eurozone - nor will we be. We are not part of any European federal plot, which, in any event, is greatly exaggerated.

Does anyone really believe the Germans are going to stop being German? Or the Italians Italian? We are not part of Schengen, but we do enjoy the advantages of the single market.

Should we abandon our friends in Europe? No, there are millions of people all across Europe who want to see Europe change and us with them, making it happen.

It is said the Irish never forget. Let us remember the history of HMS Caroline and, in remembering our past, vote for a future that, however uncertain, however difficult, offers the only realistic way of achieving a peaceful and prosperous future.

Richard Needham, the 6th Earl of Kilmorey, was Under-Secretary of State for Northern Ireland from 1985 to 1992

Belfast Telegraph

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