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Public opinion sways as the experts set out their stalls over Brexit

By John Mulgrew

More than half of those polled ahead of a major debate last night said they were in favour of the UK remaining part of the EU.

But following the frank exchanges, it seems opinions were swayed, with 48% in favour of staying, and 41% against.

It was one of the most comprehensive discussions and debates to take place in Northern Ireland in the run-up to the EU referendum vote on June 23.

A snap poll carried out by business owners, politicians and members of the public in the room ahead of the debate showed 59% were in support of the UK remaining as part of the EU.

Around a fifth said they favoured a Brexit, while a further 20% said they were unsure.

Business owners in the audience were asked if they traded with EU nations outside of the UK. Around 60% said they did business with other countries, aside from the Republic.

During the lively discussion that followed the opening remarks, host Jeffrey Peel of Quadriga Consulting clarified his own pro-Brexit position.

He was joined on stage during the question-and-answer session by Danske Bank chief economist Angela McGowan, who supports staying in the EU.

While the panellists were forthright in their strong pro and anti-EU sentiments, there were a couple of moments that brought a lighter atmosphere.

That included an unfortunate slip of the tongue by former Northern Ireland Secretary Owen Paterson, who described himself as "head of state".

Addressing the current crisis in the UK steel industry, the Conservative MP said the sector was trying to do business with both hands tied. He added the problems included companies having to hit environmental targets.

Labour MP Kate Hoey said there was a need for the Government to help the industry, as it did with the banking sector.

And Ms McGowan claimed there would be "capital flight from the UK" in the event of a Brexit.

She also warned there would be lower domestic investment, lower foreign direct investment and a drop in the value of sterling."This will be a bump in the road economically," she said.

But asked how the UK could benefit from leaving, Mr Paterson said he saw a "huge gain", as it would save around £8.5bn each year. "The money we do get out is given back to us under very tight conditions," he added.

Former Tory MP John Stevens said being on the outside of the EU would mean the UK had no say on how it was run.

And he claimed leaving would be "extremely bad news" for the City of London.

Belfast Telegraph