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Mandelson warns of Brexit 'threat to economy and security' of Northern Ireland

Former Northern Ireland Secretary Lord Mandelson said peace process would be in danger if UK left EU
Former Northern Ireland Secretary Lord Mandelson said peace process would be in danger if UK left EU

By Colin O'Carroll

Former Secretary of State Peter Mandelson has spoken out about what he believes would be the effects of Brexit on Northern Ireland - particularly on border controls and the peace process.

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He said: "The risk to Northern Ireland from leaving the EU is wide-ranging and deeply worrying, economically, politically and socially and that risk must be recognised by the rest of the United Kingdom.

"The Leave campaign has yet to explain what the implications of a Brexit are for Northern Ireland's border with the Republic of Ireland.

"They claim, confidently, that there will be controls on immigration into the UK from the EU, but at the same time Northern Ireland Secretary of State Theresa Villiers has claimed there will be no change to the open border between North and South. Meanwhile, Lord Lawson told Andrew Marr: 'There would have to be border controls'.

"The dark memory of border controls along the 310-mile border loom large for those living in both Northern Ireland and the Republic. I know businesses are deeply concerned about the considerable damage any controls would do to their trade.

"To say that any physical barrier between Northern Ireland and the Republic would be damaging to the fragile, hard-won and still emerging accord between communities in Northern Ireland would be an understatement.

"There are still 'peace walls' between divided communities in Belfast and the notion of a barrier between North and South promises to set back the good work done by those who are investing in a lasting peace."

He said the EU had been good for peace and had helped to end violence.

"Northern Ireland has benefited from more than £1bn in EU Peace Programme funding in the last 10 years.

"As part of the EU, Northern Ireland and the Republic of Ireland have worked closely under the European Arrest Warrant to undermine terrorist activity and bring those who threaten peace to justice. And we mustn't forget that the Good Friday Agreement has the European Convention on Human Rights at its heart.

"Leaving the EU will force Northern Ireland and the Republic of Ireland to agree on a new relationship in terms of energy, tourism, trade and security and Dr Edward Burke is quite right to warn of 'a protracted consultative and legislative process.'

Lord Mandelson was speaking after a defence think-tank report warned that politicians at Westminster and Stormont have failed to address risks to the region's economy and security.

Mr Burke of the the Royal United Services Institute (RUSI) said: "Northern Ireland, with its 300-mile land border, its fractured political structures, weak economy and enduring terrorist threat, requires urgent attention in the debate on a potential Brexit.

"While the debate focuses on trade and English and Scottish issues, inattention in the case of Northern Ireland, particularly on Brexit, is complacent and dangerous; Northern Ireland's departure from conflict remains brittle."

RUSI has argued that crucial EU funding for economic and specialised peace programmes could be hard to replace in the event of a Brexit, putting at risk years of cross-community and mental health work.

Joint EU membership has also helped underpin the Good Friday Agreement which ended decades of sectarian violence, it is claimed.

Mr Burke added: "Any reimposition of border controls on the UK's only land border to restrict 'back-door' immigration from the EU or the introduction of enhanced customs inspections, hindering cross-border trade, would likely see a further deterioration in Northern Ireland's already parlous economic fortunes."

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