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EU referendum: Fierce arguments rage over most momentous vote in a generation

As people get ready to go to the polls on Thursday, John Mulgrew looks at the passionate debate between both sides of the EU referendum

By John Mulgrew

The Remain campaign is arguing a range of reasons for the UK, including Northern Ireland, staying within the EU. That includes everything from the economic uncertainty surrounding the run-up to the vote, and what might happen afterwards, to the strength they believe firms here have within the single market to worker and human rights.

  • The Remain side believes Northern Ireland is a net beneficiary of EU funding, and that leaving the EU would mean the region could lose out on billions currently handed down from Brussels.
  • They believe that Northern Ireland will lose out on key business and infrastructure funding. Northern Ireland received more than £170m in just two years.
  • Many in the Remain campaign also argue that they feel 'European' in identity, and feel that being part of a bigger single market, with around 500 million people, is advantageous as it removes trade barriers, tax and import duties.
  • Farming is another area which the Remain side believes would suffer in the event of Brexit. Farmers here have received £635m for the Department of Agriculture and Rural Development (Dard), mainly due to single farm payments. They would argue, and Chancellor George Osborne has said, that a UK Government would not be able to replicate the same level of support.
  • The majority of economists across the UK say it would take a hit in the event of Brexit, and could shrink after a vote to leave. Bank of England Governor Mark Carney has also warned that the UK could fall into recession in the event of the UK leaving the EU. There are concerns that sterling could be severely weakened in the event of Brexit.
  • Here, Remain has also argued that Northern Ireland's peace process could be affected post-Brexit, given the deluge of EU peace funding received by local projects, and the prospect of the introduction of custom posts on the border with the Republic.
  • Remain, along with the bulk of the UK's financial services sector, believes that the City of London, and therefore satellite supporting cities such as Belfast, would collapse if the UK votes to leave. Some firms have also said they would reconsider setting up here if we vote for Brexit.
  • And while the Leave campaign has concerns over the level of migrant workers moving to Northern Ireland and the rest of the UK to work, many of those in the Remain camp believe the flow of workers into the UK can help fuel economic growth.
  • Remain is also a cause supported by the left, including the majority of trade unions. UK unions including Unite and Unison are urging its six million members to vote to remain. However, Northern Ireland's largest union, Nipsa, narrowly voted to back Brexit.


On the other side of the debate, the Leave campaign is strongly arguing that the EU is a wasteful institution, which costs the taxpayer billions every year, limits the UK's trade with other regions, and the free movement of people between countries means immigration levels are too high.

  • On the farming argument, Leave supporters believe the industry here could thrive outside the EU, without the burden of 'red tape' and quotas. Some, including former Northern Ireland Secretary of State Owen Paterson, also say that there is "no stability" for farmers in the EU, and handouts are declining. Many in the fishing industry also want out, claiming that the industry can be policed better at a local level.
  • Many in the Leave camp, including First Minister Arlene Foster, believe key decisions regarding politics and economics should be devolved as close to each nation as possible. They say that the EU is pulling power and decision-making further away, and believe a return of powers would flow back to Westminster, and to Stormont, in the event of Brexit.
  • The First Minister has also argued that EU laws have had a direct chill effect on Northern Ireland's economic development - citing the EU's Azores ruling, which means that a shortfall from a cut in corporation tax has to be made up from a cut to the block grant
  • One of the big arguments from the Leave side is the cost to the public purse from remaining part of the EU. They argue that the UK pays in around £350m each week towards its membership, not taking into account what it receives back, and the UK's rebate.
  • Brexit supporters believe the EU has become bloated and evolved into a 'super-state' or 'United States of Europe'. They believe that the EU meddles in everything from striking down UK legal decisions, to limiting who else the UK and other countries can trade with.
  • Those who want out of the EU believe the UK is restricted by its membership, and believe it could establish its own trade agreements and arrangements by leaving. Some point to other nations such as Norway, which has access to the single market, but not bound by EU legislation around farming and home affairs.
  • Eurosceptics also don't believe the majority of small and medium firms benefit from EU membership and instead are hindered by membership and regulatory burden.
  • Immigration is one of the biggest arguments that has been put forward by the Brexit campaign, arguing to leave. They saw that there are too many workers moving into the UK, taking UK jobs, and lowering wages.
  • Aside from the economic arguments, Vote Leave also believe that UK sovereignty has, and continues, to be eroded as a result of EU membership.
  • Fear over future composition of the EU have played a large part in the Leave argument - particularly the prospect of Turkey joining. Vote Leave, said that would mean the arrival of another million people to the UK.
  • Brexiteers believe leaving the EU will allow the UK to re-establish itself as an independent nation, able to make its own connections with the rest of the world.

The facts and figures

Northern Ireland received £635m from the EU in last two years towards farm subsidies, rural development and fisheries

The EU has given more than £170m to Northern Ireland towards business and economic development, roads and job creation, in a two-year period

Leaving the EU is likely to lead to a return of some form of customs controls between Northern Ireland and the Republic

The UK's membership of the EU costs around £350m each week. But it receives back around half of that in rebate and contributions

The EU has earmarked a further £180m for Peace IV funding for Northern Ireland, which will last until 2020

Northern Ireland's fishing industry was earmarked to get a total of £18.5m from the EU from 2013 to 2015

Food, beverages and other agricultural products make up 35% of Northern Ireland's exports to the EU, compared with just 10% in the UK as a whole

Belfast Telegraph

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