What are the issues for NI when imagining Brexit from the EU? (audio)

QUB’s School of Politics, International Studies and Philosophy (PSIP) together with Policy Engagement at Queen’s organised a discussion on Northern Ireland and the EU Referendum: What are the Issues?

What should the UK government be seeking in its renegotiation of the terms of EU membership? What are the key issues for any debate on whether to remain in or to leave the EU? What would the implications of a Brexit be for Northern Ireland? Where do Northern Ireland’s interest lie?

Declan Lawn chaired the discussion, with short contributions from four panellists before opening up for questions and answers from the floor.

QUB QPOL PISP Brexit from back middleDanske Bank economist Angela McGowan explained that when selling Northern Ireland and encouraging firms to open bases here for Foreign Direct Investment, having a foothold in Europe and the European market is an important consideration. While the UK is a net contributor to Europe every year (except 1973), Angela spoke about also spoke about grants, subventions and opportunities for all-island trade unencumbered by border posts and the EU’s role in peace and reconciliation. The UK could no longer rely on the EU’s wider bilateral trade agreements. She summed up her vision of the UK’s best relationship with the EU: “friends with benefits”, though stopping well short of monetary union.

QUB QPOL PISP Brexit panel highresDr Mary Murphy lectures on Northern Ireland’s relationship with Europe at University College Cork and she placed the discussion. That relationship has changed and evolved since the UK joined in 1973. Hostility to Europe has grown in recent years, along with a growth in political parties reticent about our membership of the EU contesting elections. Issues around national sovereignty, identity and the future make-up of the UK play into the discussion. The Scottish Government has a position on European reform; however, the cross-party nature of the NI Executive seems to make it impossible for a local policy to be agreed and argued. She described the NI party manifesto positions on the EU as “quite vague”

QUB QPOL PISP Brexit back left cornerDr Cathal McCall from QUB’s School of Politics talked about the effect on borders a British exit from the EU. The debate is largely driven by opposition to the free movement of labour across Europe as well opposition to migration into Europe. He considered three different border strategies – a hard Irish border (disastrous for nationalists), a hard border around Great Britain (problematic for unionists), and a hard border around the whole British Isles – as well as the likelihood that the Brexit and Scottish Independence campaigns could become intertwined.

Dr Lee McGowan lectures on politics at QUB. He suggested that the odds are shortening for a September 2016 referendum so by this time next year we’re likely to have decided. The “glory days” of grants are over for Northern Ireland. Yet CAP continues and the agri-food industry – important for local economy and employment – might ask if the UK left the EU would the Treasury pay the same level of grants to farmers? He articulated a long list of possible implications that are, as yet, far from the debate in Northern Ireland. Would the non-EU students at NI universities dry up? These students key to diversity as well as university funding. How does the public feel about their current ability to seek employment anywhere in EU? Is this valued? How does the West’s deteriorating relationship with Russia affect a Brexit vote? Overall, Lee says he’s less certain of how the UK will vote than he was. But the level of debate about Brexit within NI is not encouraging.

Forty five minutes of questions followed. If the panel were betting people, would they bet on UK exiting the EU? No. No. No. No.

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  • Chingford Man

    £55 million extra a day to spend on our people and being free of the German-dominated EU. Seems a win-win to me.

  • Kevin Breslin

    No one has been pushing cuts to CAP grants in agriculture harder than the UK, as is their right as one of the most influential countries in the EU and one of many net contributors.

    I feel Northern Ireland outside the EU, inside the UK would not only lose the collective benefits to the EU or engage in some sort of our free trade vs your free trade barriers that drove the UK into the EEC in the first place, it will face cuts that haven’t been mitigated by “common agriculturalists” like the Republic of Ireland and France. In countries like Switzerland and Norway the lack of Europe’s economy of scale ensures that the state pays over half the farmer’s salaries, in the UK and Ireland this is nearer 30%.

    My own feeling is given the UK’s biggest expenditure from the EU is in agriculture, and despite being one of the least agrarian nations is the 5th biggest net beneficiary. The U.K. taking on the EU’s subsidy role would be around one and a half times more expensive than it is now.

    This would leave very little from keeping the UK’s annual net contribution.

  • chrisjones2

    ….but what you are saying I think is that the UK doesn’t need all these farmers. Which may well be accurate in some sectors like milk where industrial scale production with indoor factory farmed cows seems to be becoming the norm. In other sectors like beef there may be the chance to build export markets outside the EU as some Irish companies are doing very successfully.

    We have seen locals in some areas oppose such developments – which is great but will just mean that the jobs move outside Ni and their children in have no jobs here in the future. The reality is that unless we have developments and industries we might as well move

    The UK isn’t just a net contributor to the EU, its a huge net market for EU goods including agriculture and food. I think its also Ireland’s largest export market

    I suspect none of that will change. We just wont have to pay the EU a subsidy at the same time. Indeed, as its desperate to export EU goods the EU may well subsidise exports to us to keep the market

    So the main impact may be on small scale farm producers in some sectors but that’s a long term trend anyway.

  • Dan

    Was the panel made up of four ‘stay in the EU’ types?

  • Boglover

    Difficult to know from the summaries above, but one little-discussed scenario is that a (large?) majority of NI/Scotland/Wales voters are in favour of staying in EU and a majority of English voters in favour of leaving. More petrol on the devolution debate aside, how would this play out in practical terms? If the total number of voters were in favour of leaving then the Westminster government would be justified in precipitating a UK withdrawal. As pointed out, the impact would fall more heavily on the Devolved Administrations (DAs) than on England, so would Westminster (England) make up the shortfall?
    Developing the financial theme, it isn’t just about money coming in for the CAP; there’s a raft of other funding through European Structural, Regional and Social Funds. These would also need to be replaced and all this on top of the existing Block Grant. It is true to say that England has been less active (and certainly less effective) at drawing down these sources than their Celtic Cousins. Witnessing the arguments around the economics of Scottish Devolution does not fill one with confidence that the “facts” will be accurately presented, even if they are available!

  • 23×7

    As we approach the referendum if anyone in either the Tory party or UKIP starts talking about the economic benefits of leaving the EU they are being duplicitous. For these politicians this debate is about immigration, nothing else.

    As for N.I., departure from the EU will be a clusterf**k. On top of cuts to further education why would any multinational then choose to invest in Newry ahead of Dundalk?

  • Reader

    The Tories have had a large Eurosceptic wing since long before European immigration was any sort of issue at all.
    Talk to some of the old folks – they’ll remember.

  • 23×7

    Large? Doubt it. Actually it was the left that supported exit in 1975. The right carried the day. Even Thatcher said that the Yes vote would not have happened without the Opposition’s support for it.

    For the right today this about immigration.

  • Kevin Breslin

    I don’t see a behaviour shift in the UK government’s approach to agriculture, both Labour and the Conservatives wanted CAP reduced with no parallel increase in state subsidies. There is no suggestion that the wizards of Brexit are going to look more favourably when the likes of UKIP and the Bruges group are more concerned with limiting workers rights and Romanian beggars on the street than favouring British food and British farmers over cheap imports. Also the Brugges Group and UKIP are extreme libertarian, they hate state subsidisation … any farmer not able to make it on their own (competing in the open market against low cost Oriental goods in countries with poor human rights) deserves to fail. In other words survival of the richest. I could bring up the Famine as a political precedence for the laissez-faire approach to farming.

    With regards to the EU market and the U.K. being able to tell the other 27 countries where to go and what to do, I should remind you that the UK deficit to the EU is much much bigger than its net contribution, so it’s not a case of he who pays the piper calls the tune … The U.K. has heard the tune, but it still owes the piper.

    he one way that UK food suppliers could get more money from Europe is to raise prices but there is a Laffer Curve effect, more expensive British goods would be weighed up against cheaper local goods from EU countries that meet the standards of 27 countries.

    With regards to international trade there’s really no ban of the U.K. Trading outside of the EU and the tariffs which are reinvested into CAP goes back to UK farmers anyway. Global market force problems such as the Chinese recession, India’s drive to self-sufficiency and the mutual sanctions between Russia and North America & Western Europe will still be there.

    You mentioned Irish beef farmers expanding their market outside the EU, that’s a combination of the insider advantage and the will to branch out to new countries. The latter is completely EU and Brexit independent, it simply shows a lack of commercial resolve around British farmers who are in the same political environment as the Irish.

    The outsider advantage is questionable, indeed the two richest outsiders have their state subsidise farmers over half their income … My guess is the UK whether Labour or Conservative will simply treat farmers like Thatcher treated the miners, farmers (at least small farmers who need subsidies) represent an expendable minimum of their support base. Worse case approach is that Northern Irish farms are sold to English land owners.

  • Reader

    More recent than that – John Major’s ‘bastards’:


  • Chingford Man

    Not read any Dan Hannan recently?

  • chrisjones2

    “any farmer not able to make it on their own (competing in the open market against low cost Oriental goods in countries with poor human rights) ”

    More likely competing in the UK against high quality goods from countries like FRance, Poland, Germany, the US and China

  • chrisjones2

    “Worse case approach is that Northern Irish farms are sold to English land owners.”

    why is that the ‘worst case’?

  • Kevin Breslin

    This is not an Anglophobic rant, there are probably loads of English born farmers earning a decent wage in our local agriculture sector and they have my gratitude.

    My main problem is that local farmers are struggling to live within their means, if a subsidy is gone and farmers are forced to sell their family farms at fire sale prices … then that’s a win for big corporations or old money landowners.

    Not just English landowners, but Scottish, Welsh, Northern Irish and Irish ones too, maybe even a few from overseas. It would be in a lot of rich people’s interest to undo the Land League and Land reform in Great Britain too… and this applies equally to other anti-CAP forces in the 27 other countries.

  • Kevin Breslin

    There’s really nothing stopping British goods being sold in British goods now, or anyone from buying them.

    My point is though, If the state refuse to subsidize the production costs then ultimately agriculture will only be maintained by large commercial farms and the already state-subsidized royal estates, maybe the odd garden allotment if we’re being generous here.

    Even with a subsidy the cost of production is higher than the return from sales, this isn’t just affecting pastoral farming but arable farming too. These farmers need an income just to get their product out there.

  • eamoncorbett

    Bang on.

  • eamoncorbett

    Bang on Reader.

  • eamoncorbett

    The future may be in organic farming rather than the “factory ” farm which the UK seem to favour . There is a huge untapped market for organic produce , but it is more expensive.

  • Kevin Breslin

    I am not aware of organic agriculture being lower costed or less entitled to CAP subsidisation.