Prime Minister David Cameron: A vote to stay in Europe is better for Northern Ireland
Prime Minister writes exclusively for Sunday Life and argues that Brexit would be bad for NI
In just under four months Northern Ireland, like the rest of the United Kingdom, will face one of the biggest questions of our time. Do we stay in a reformed European Union, or leave for good?
This is not about whether we could make a go of things outside the European Union. Of course we could. I believe in the United Kingdom — head, heart and soul — and I know we will always be successful whatever path we choose. The real question is this: are families and businesses in Northern Ireland better off if we are inside a reformed EU, or out on our own? My view is clear: we are all better off, safer and stronger by staying in a reformed EU.
Northern Ireland will be better off because businesses here will have full access to a free trade single market of 500 million people that delivers jobs, investment and lower prices in the shops. Today as many as 50,000 jobs in Northern Ireland are linked to trade with the rest of the European Union.
In fact food and drink — and farming as a whole — account for a fifth of all Northern Ireland’s exports, with almost 90 per cent now going to the EU. The people who want us to leave cannot tell us what our status would be outside the EU in terms of trading with our former partners. Some argue for simply opting for World Trade Organisation (WTO) status and rules, which could mean paying tariffs on our exports, including food.
So this decision will be particularly important for Northern Ireland’s farmers. The Ulster Farmers Union has said they think food prices in Northern Ireland would increase if we left the EU. Their concerns include the loss of a key market and tighter north-south trade controls. It is vital that the voice of Northern Ireland’s farmers is heard and that those who want us to leave the EU answer their questions.
Those who believe we should leave also have to be clear about two other things. First, they are wrong to suggest that it would be possible for Northern Ireland to cut its corporation tax without facing any reduction in its Block Grant from Westminster. If we wanted to trade with Europe, then the same rules would probably still apply, and in any event no Government could ever simply waive the costs of a tax reduction like this in one part of the UK.
Second, those who advocate leaving need to explain what it would mean for the Common Travel Area between the UK and Ireland. I am clear the UK will never be part of the passport-free Schengen zone, but I do want to sustain free trade and movement between the UK and the Republic of Ireland. I know how important it is to business and communities that the border between Northern Ireland and the Republic of Ireland remains fully open. There was £4bn worth of trade between the two parts of the island in 2014, and the Republic is by far Northern Ireland’s largest export market.
So those arguing to leave need to explain how they would prevent the delays, extra bureaucracy and costs to business that would come with the introduction of physical customs controls on the border between Northern Ireland and the Republic? How would they avoid having to introduce immigration checks on the border, when the Common Travel Area relies on the fact that the UK and the Republic have similar immigration arrangements? These are questions that need to be answered.
Soon it will be time to make your choice. Leave — a leap in the dark to years of risk, economic danger and uncertainty for Northern Ireland and for the future of the whole UK; or stay, giving us a safer, stronger, more prosperous UK, standing united with real clout on the world stage.
And if we stay our plan for Europe gives us the best of both worlds — in the single market with a say over its rules but out of the parts of Europe that don’t work for us like the single currency and the commitment to ever closer political union.
It’s a decision that will shape the destiny of Northern Ireland and the future of our children and grandchildren. I’ll be voting to remain. I hope the people of Northern Ireland will, too.