Brexit would hit Northern Ireland harder than Britain, insists Labour grandee Alan Johnson
Northern Ireland would suffer more than Britain if the UK votes to leave Europe, a former senior Cabinet minister has said.
Labour MP Alan Johnson said there were "all kinds of ramifications" around a Brexit and the effect would be "more pronounced" for businesses in Northern Ireland.
Mr Johnson was in west Belfast at Delta Packaging to help launch a 19-strong team of pro-EU business leaders.
Among those in the group are former Allstate boss Bro McFerran; Glyn Roberts of the Northern Ireland Independent Retail Trade Association; NI Screen chair Rotha Johnston, and top businessman Dr Len O'Hagan.
Former Ulster Unionist Health Minister Michael McGimpsey is also backing the 'remain' campaign.
Speaking to the Belfast Telegraph, Mr Johnson - who held a number of roles in Tony Blair's and Gordon Brown's Labour administrations - said: "It's the same here as everywhere else in the UK, that for Britain's prosperity, for our security, our voice in the world, we need to remain in the EU.
"There's a particular dimension here in that we would have the only land border with an EU country.
"There are all kinds of ramifications around that... it's even more pronounced here, and Northern Ireland is a net recipient of money from the EU.
"I think Northern Ireland epitomises what that money is there for, the structural funds.
"The idea is to ensure that in this single market, there are rules that protect workers, consumers and the environment, so it's not just a race to the bottom."
Mr Johnson, a former Home Secretary, said walking away from the European Union would leave the UK trying to negotiate trade agreements with Europe and with dozens of other nations around the world.
"We get representation from the Republic of Ireland, who are very worried about the implications," he pointed out.
Asked whether the pro-Europe campaign had been slow to get going in contrast with the Brexit campaign supported by London Mayor Boris Johnson among others, he said: "The people who want to leave, the people who are vociferous about these things, have the loudest voices.
"The second aspect is what we call 'blue-on-blue'.
"When a Cabinet member, say Theresa Villiers, is arguing with the Prime Minister, that's a news story. We tend to get pushed out of that. But I think that will change. As we get closer to polling day, people will be more interested in the facts."
Shadow Secretary of State Vernon Coaker, who joined Mr Johnson yesterday, said: "It's not only the manufacturing businesses, it's the services sector. The access to that market.
"The idea that we pull out and everything will be fine... a fingers-crossed approach to the future is not the certainty people want."
Delta Packaging boss Terry Cross believes the UK should actually go further and be part of the eurozone. "You have all these currency rate fluctuations. Unfortunately, in this argument, the single currency isn't up for discussions," he said.
Sir Stuart Rose, chairman of Britain Stronger In Europe, said it was "fantastic to see so many talented and committed people, from all walks of life, uniting to say that Northern Ireland and the whole of the UK are stronger, safer and better off as part of the EU".
The group here is being chaired by Tom Kelly, founder of Stakeholder Communications.
"I am passionate in my belief that the future of everyone in Northern Ireland will be better off by the UK remaining in the EU," he said.