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Livestream: Watch big EU Debate in Belfast as politicians lock horns over Brexit

Two of the leading campaigners for the UK to leave the European Union will today join forces to lobby fishermen and farmers ahead of a major debate in Belfast tonight.

Former Conservative Secretary of State Owen Paterson and the Northern Ireland-born Labour MP Kate Hoey are due to meet representatives of the fishing industry in Co Down, before travelling to the Science Park in Titanic Quarter for the Big EU Debate.

They'll come head to head with shadow Secretary of State Vernon Coaker and the former Tory MEP John Stevens, who are arguing for the UK to remain in Europe.

The event, to be streamed live across the UK on the Belfast Telegraph's website, will see a clash of strongly held views on both sides of the debate. Mr Paterson said that while it was assumed that most farmers favoured remaining in the EU because of the agricultural subsidies, he believed that many were in favour of leaving.

"Farmers are far more balanced on this issue than people are making out," said Mr Paterson, whose most recent Cabinet post was as Environment, Food and Rural Affairs Secretary.

"They are thoroughly fed up with the rules and regulations that come from Europe.

"The current CAP (Common Agricultural Policy) regime only goes up to 2021 and there are clear indications that the EU wants to reduce the amount. Countries outside the EU, like Iceland and Switzerland, pay higher levels of subsidy than in the EU.

"If Britain left and it was felt that it was appropriate to do so, then we could pay more, but we would get power back and we would be massively better off because we could target the money in a much more effective way."

During his time in Northern Ireland Mr Paterson was a strong supporter of the campaign for a lower rate of corporation tax at 12.5%, which is to be introduced in 2018. And he dismissed fears that investors will be deterred from locating in Northern Ireland if the UK is no longer part of the EU.

"That's simply not the case. US firms will be attracted to Northern Ireland because of the skills on offer, the legal structures and the low corporate tax regime.

"We will ensure that there's access to European and world markets."

The North Shropshire MP also dismissed concerns that UK trade could suffer if there's a Brexit.

"That's part of the black hole scare narrative that's emerged in this debate, with people saying that if we leave the EU we will be leaping into a black cavern.

"We're the fifth biggest economy in the world, so the EU has a strategic interest in continuing to trade with the UK. We'll come to an economic and markets arrangement with the EU, but we won't be sending huge amounts of money every week and we won't be overruled by Europe.

"When Northern Ireland business people say they're worried about the uncertainty of leaving the EU, I would wholly disagree with them.

"There's more uncertainty and danger by staying in because of the way in which the eurozone is consolidating. The time has come for us to get out and wish them well."    

Belfast Telegraph