Tue 5th May 2015
May 15: Remaining in the EU is vital for Northern Ireland businesses
This general election is set to deliver the closest outcome in generations, and at the time of writing it seems clear that no single major UK party will be in a position to form a Government on its own. Those circumstances throw up possibilities which, for our region, present a mix of opportunities and challenges.
The prospect of a hung parliament also increases the likelihood of an early vote on Britain’s membership of the European Union. Our view is that a referendum on an exit from Europe is bad for the UK and certainly bad for Northern Ireland. Even the uncertainty of a referendum campaign – never mind the result – is enough to damage the economy and our prospects for attracting further inward investment to Northern Ireland.
There are faults within the EU but it is probably unreasonable to expect that any organisation so large and all-embracing would run smoothly at all times. However, if there are issues around policy issues and the hierarchy of responsibilities between member states and the EU then they should be resolved by constructive dialogue and positive engagement, not a threat to withdraw.
NI Chamber is quite clear on the issue; EU membership has been good for Northern Ireland and commuted membership is essential. Exporting is the key to economic success for companies in Northern Ireland and our continued active membership of an open European market is central to the ambition of many local firms.
The EU has contributed hugely to the development of Northern Ireland, through mainstreamed infrastructure funds which have helped pour billions of pounds into the region, to specially constructed ‘Peace Funds’ which helped to solidify the peace process and came as a direct intervention by our then MEPs working together to make a plea for treating Northern Ireland as a special case. Over the 2007 – 2013 period alone the EU has invested almost £2.5 billion directly into the local economy, with a sizeable chunk of that directed at agricultural payments.
Faced with the implications of a ‘Brexit’ Northern Ireland plc should stand firm and make our voices heard. The EU is where we belong.