Belfast Telegraph

EU referendum: Nigel Farage and Vernon Coaker argue the bit out in Belfast over Brexit (and have small bet on side)

By Amanda Ferguson

Ukip leader Nigel Farage and Labour's shadow Northern Ireland secretary Vernon Coaker have made a £20 bet that their respective sides will win the EU membership referendum on June 23.

The Ukip MEP and Labour MP made the light-hearted deal in Belfast yesterday as they argued for and against leaving the EU.

Mr Farage, who wants the UK out, took part in the debate at Ulster University with Mr Coaker, who is campaigning to remain in Europe.

At the event, organised by the Centre for Democracy and Peace Building, Mr Coaker said the UK was better off staying in the EU "because we achieve more together than we do alone".

Mr Farage described the upcoming referendum as "the single most important vote of our lifetimes" and accused pro-EU campaigners of scaremongering about risks to jobs and trade. He said voting for a Brexit did not mean "the sky will fall in", and that he believed the UK should be an independent nation making its own laws, controlling its own borders and making its own trade deals.

He added that he wanted to live in "a Europe of co-operation, but not centralised power".

Mr Coaker argued he had a much more positive and confident view of the UK in the EU.

"It is not unreasonable to point out that one in eight jobs in Northern Ireland is related to trade with the EU," he said,

"Nine thousand businesses are related to the trade that Northern Ireland conducts with the European Union, and Northern Ireland is much more dependent on exports to the European Union than the rest of the UK."

A recent survey of NI Chamber of Commerce members suggested that 81% would vote for the UK to remain.

Mr Farage said he did not see any negative implications for business, farmers or cross-border arrangements.

"There are a lot of scare stories," the Ukip leader added.

Mr Farage said people in Northern Ireland had nothing to fear from a Brexit and that "possibly in terms of manufacturing and areas like that, there could be some real opportunities". Addressing the Irish border arrangements in the event of a Brexit, Mr Farage said "mercifully, Ireland is not part of Schengen".

He insisted that he saw no reason why the current soft border arrangements could not continue unaffected.

But Mr Coaker warned that people were rightfully concerned about what a Brexit would mean for the Irish border and what it meant if the border between North and South became a frontier between the EU and the UK.

"There is no answer to any of that," Mr Coaker said.

"I don't think this 'it will be all right on the night' attitude is sufficient for Northern Ireland."

Labour MP Kate Hoey, TUV leader Jim Allister and the DUP's Sammy Wilson will take part in a Grassroots Out rally at Titanic Belfast on Friday.

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