Nigel Farage will speak at a rally in Belfast tonight, but lots of questions remain about Northern Ireland's future outside the EU
Grassroots Out hold their second major rally in Belfast tonight, where they face perhaps their biggest challenge.
Recent polling shows that support for Remain is stronger in Northern Ireland than in any other part of the UK. Although First Minister Arlene Foster and the DUP officially support Leave, NatCen’s ‘poll of polls’ shows 75 per cent support for Remain among the population.
There are many possible explanations for the high levels of support in Northern Ireland. For example, it is more economically vulnerable than most of the UK and is highly dependent on agriculture.
The Good Friday Agreement is predicated on both Ireland and the UK being EU members, and cross-border peace initiatives have been facilitated by extensive EU funding.
Perhaps most importantly, voters are highly preoccupied with the question of relations with the Republic of Ireland, and the status of the border.
It’s been estimated that Northern Ireland would lose out on £1bn in cross-border trade annually post-Brexit, the flow of tourists would be disrupted, as would the workers who commute across the border.
Moreover, for many people the reinstatement of border patrols would be a painful reminder of the Troubles, when checkpoints were key flashpoints.
Unfortunately, the Leave campaign has not been able to offer any conclusive answer on the question of North-South relations.
Nigel Farage doesn’t even seem to know his own stance on the issue, having previously suggested both that Brexit would not affect Anglo-Irish relations and that a harder border should be established.
According to his plan, foreign nationals would have to acquire work permits to cross the border but Irish nationals would retain freedom of movement.
This demonstrates that Farage has learned to hedge his statements in recent years and to present the more acceptable face of the Kippers.
As a result, he has maintained that Irish people should not be treated as immigrants in the UK, and that the open border with the Republic has been good for Britain.
However, David McNarry, UKIP leader in Nothern Ireland, has not achieved the same level of polish and, at the party conference in Llandudno last month, he delivered a much blunter message on the border question.
“Let me tell you about the U.K.’s only land border – it is invisible . . . No-one patrols the border – there are no border checks – no passport controls, absolutely nothing – it is the traffickers’ dreamland!”
For many Northern Irish people, the invisible border is one of the great achievements of the peace process, but McNarry has demanded that Cameron ‘inform Taoiseach Kenny that Border controls will be introduced on the 24th of June.’
Ultimately, the 300-mile Irish border is notoriously difficult to police, and would remain porous even if greater controls were imposed post-Brexit. What UKIP seems to be proposing is a measure that would hurt trade, inflame tensions and diminish the morale of the population, without making a significant different on immigration.
Perhaps Farage and his Leave colleagues will be able to provide some additional clarity at the GO rally tonight.Like this article? Sign up to Left Foot Forward's weekday email for the latest progressive news and comment - and support campaigning journalism by making a donation today.
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