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Pro-Brexit Owen Paterson refutes Kenny's 'out of date' border control warnings

By Margaret Canning

Former Northern Ireland Secretary Owen Paterson has said many farmers in Northern Ireland are eager to leave the EU.

The pro-Brexit Conservative paid a visit to Northern Ireland yesterday, where he refuted Taoiseach Enda Kenny's warnings on the risk of renewed border and custom controls between Northern Ireland and the Republic in the event of a Brexit.

While he had "great respect" for the Republic's Taoiseach, Mr Paterson said trading between Northern Ireland and the Republic would continue.

"To my mind, Northern Ireland will, in fact, have the best of both worlds - a corporation tax rate that puts it on a level playing field with the Republic, and also being part of the UK, as the fifth-biggest economy in the world," he said.

Fears that a physical border would be restored between the two were unfounded, he said.

"This idea that we'd have big wooden borders to stop the stagecoaches is completely out of date," he added. A poll by the Belfast Telegraph last week found most Northern Ireland people were in favour of staying in the EU. But Mr Paterson said he had met many people in Northern Ireland who were vehemently anti-Europe.

Mr Paterson, also a former UK Secretary of State for the Environment, Food and Rural Affairs, said he had heard many pro-Brexit views on a visit to the Balmoral Show last month.

"Farmers were coming up to me to tell me that they were fed-up with the incredibly complex regime of the Common Agricultural Policy. It's absurdly complicated and interfering, and very difficult to conform to."

The present regime of the CAP was to close in 2021, he added.

"It's much more uncertain to stay than it is to leave."

Mr Paterson took part in an EU debate in April at Queen's University.

"People said at the start that they were pro-Remain but by the end, we were swinging them round," he said of the debate.

Mr Paterson said the money currently spent on farming by Europe would be replicated by Westminster in the event of Brexit, adding: "It will be much better to have the money being spent by local politicians who can spend it on our food industry in a targeted way."

He said other businesspeople were also pro-Brexit but in some cases were "shy Brexiteers" who did not want to make their views known.

Mr Paterson spent three years as Shadow Northern Ireland Secretary and two years in the post itself, up until 2012. He mobilised political parties and the business community in favour of a cut in corporation tax. But he would not say if he was disappointed by the lack of high-profile business figures in Northern Ireland on the pro-Brexit side.

He said that despite coverage of the conflict between pro-Remain Prime Minister David Cameron and pro-Brexit party colleagues, the debate was "about more than Conservative Party personalities". "This is the biggest choice we've faced for a generation. It's about what sort of country this is and who we want to run it," he added.

Belfast Telegraph