Craig Harrison writes for us about the ongoing debate about our membership of the European Union
Last week may have given something of an insight into the international economic outlook of our largest party.
Within the space of two days, DUP Enterprise Minister Jonathan Bell announced a trade mission to China – while East Antrim MP Sammy Wilson threw his weight behind a campaign to leave the EU. Is this DUP foreign policy in action?
The former wasn’t much of a surprise; the DETI press machine has been busy over the past while, gushing over the economic opportunities to be found in the growing Chinese market. On this, Mr Bell argued most recently: “China is clearly open for business and we have already laid sound foundations in terms of exports. It [is] now time to build on those foundations”.
The latter, however, may have been viewed with some dismay by DUP supporters within its rural heartland, and not many can have expected to receive a DUP press release with a picture attached of Sammy Wilson gleefully shaking hands with Nigel Farage at a ‘Leave the EU’ event.
Mr Wilson relied on the same arguments used by the rest of the Eurosceptic lobby in UK politics. Indeed, his complaints over the erosion of sovereignty to EU law, the lack of accountability, the high costs associated with EU membership and the detrimental impacts to international trade, were all too familiar.
Does this signal the setting of a definitive DUP outlook on the world?
Arguably, the blunt anti-EU stance that “the U.K. would be better off out” has been in the pipeline.
The DUP has long been Eurosceptic, with its sole MEP Diane Dodds an avid cheerleader for Brexit over the last numbers of years.
But blunt it was. The party seems to have finally nailed its colours to the mast ahead of the upcoming referendum – opting for the UK to do as it pleases in the international area with trade partners like China, rather than be saddled with what the DUP perceives to be a restrictive and ever-encroaching European Union.
All of this promises to make things rather exciting as we move toward the deadline for a UK-wide referendum on EU membership. The NI electorate have, in the past, been apathetic toward European politics – as demonstrated by consistently poor turnout during European elections.
But, with our parties now starting to choose sides – and Northern Ireland likely to play an important (if not definitive) role in the outcome of the referendum – interesting times lie ahead.