Debate on EU membership hots up across the nations

Northern Ireland MPs clash over the implications of Brexit

 

The new leader of Northern Ireland’s SDLP paryt has warned that a vote to take the UK out of the European Union would be ‘devastating’ for Northern Ireland.

Speaking ahead of an address delivered in Brussels last night, Colum Eastwood warned that Brexit would represent ‘a threat to farming families, a threat to our business community and a threat to our exports. In the case of Northern Ireland it is also a threat to the multiple arrangements and agreements between the islands of Ireland and Britain.’

“There is a huge amount at stake.”

Expanding upon his concerns about the impact withdrawal from the EU would have on the various agreements between London, Belfast and Dublin, Eastwood continued by pleading with the Irish Taoiseach Enda Kenny to stand up for Northern Ireland. He explained:

“A Brexit would undermine and destabilise the fabric of successive Anglo-Irish Agreements. It would undermine and destabilise our North-South institutions. It would resurrect borders and resurrect barriers for business.

“As co-guarantor of those Anglo-Irish Agreements, the Taoiseach has a role and a duty to represent the interests of the North on this issue.”

“The selfish and sectional interests of some in the Tory party”, Eastwood conclude “cannot be the only voice steering this decision and debate.”

The SDLP leader’s comments came as a former finance minister at Stormont has argued that Northern Ireland could be £540 million better off outside the EU.

Speaking yesterday, DUP MP Sammy Wilson, who is campaigning to leave the EU, argued that the yearly block grant provided to Stormont by Whitehall would benefit from the savings the UK could make on its financial contribution to the EU.

He suggested that in such a scenario, Northern Ireland would in theory be entitled to 3 per cent (£540m) of the £18bn that the UK pays into Europe as a result of the Barnett Formula.

Wilson’s comments stand in stark contrast to research produced for the Northern Ireland Assembly’s Enterprise Committee last year, which found that the Northern Ireland economy would lose around €1 billion per annum following a Brexit and face a 3 per cent decline in GDP.

In Scotland meanwhile, the apparent unity of the SNP in supporting EU membership has been broken thanks to the intervention of its former leader, Jim Sillars.

Expressing concerns at the failure of the party to have a proper debate over membership of the EU, Sillars commented:

“I’ll do what I can among members of the SNP to persuade them the party is wrong and they should take an entirely different position to that urged upon them.

“The great problem with the SNP membership is the hangover from the referendum. If you have the temerity to criticise anything you are described as disloyal. A lot of folk will have to break out of that.”

He also observed that he has ‘never bought’ the SNP leadership’s claim that if Scotland voted to remain and the UK overall wanted to leave, demand for independence would rise.

“This is the love affair with the EU,” has said. “I don’t have a love affair with the EU. If the UK comes out of the EU then fine.”

He continued:

“That should allow those in favour of independence to look at alternatives to the EU, which keeps telling us to get stuffed.

“The difficulty is that because of the SNP position over the years and particularly the dominant position they have got, there has been no debate in Scotland or examination of the issues involved.”

Ed Jacobs is a contributing editor at Left Foot Forward. Follow him on Twitter

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