Introducing the fourth in a short series of EUDebateNI events this morning in Derry~Londonderry, Conor Houston explained that while the Centre for Democracy and Peace Building takes a neutral on the decision of whether the UK remains or leaves EU, it does want to encourage debate.
Business journalist Naomi McMullan hosted the debate said there was a lot of information about the EU referendum but very little clarity. She characterised the debate as “a clash of visions”.
Danske Bank’s economist Angela McGowan was open that she was “a stayer” and recognised that view in many of the bank’s big business customers. Economists want to stay because of the uncertainty. However she quoted philosopher John Stuart Mill:
He who knows only his own side of the case knows little of that
Highlighting competing and conflicting studies she warned against believing anyone who said they had “definitive” figures. There are many assumptions in Brexit economic models to be sure if the figures truly add up.
She walked the audience through direct and indirect benefits of the EU, quantified the level of imports and exports, highlighted that the EU was a big FDI partner (both in and out of the UK) and spoke about the impact on labour markers and the EU’s history of building rights for workers.
While agriculture only accounts for 1.1% of the NI economy but feeds [Ed – pun intended?] into the agri-food manufacturing sector and food security. Brexit would result in depreciation of UK land assets (since the land-linked subsidy would be removed) and have a knock on impact on the cred worthiness of marginal firms.
She also noted contradictions in Boris Johnson’s desire for tighter control of UK borders while being content for NI to have an open border for ROI.
Angela finished with the view of the Danske Bank Markets (Copenhagan) who judge that “Brexit is a lose-lose game for both the UK and the EU”.
Brian Doherty looked at the impact of Brexit on legislation and legal frameworks. [You can also hear his more detailed comments at the Brexit legal conference on Friday 26 February.] It would be a huge job to comb through legislation across the UK to ensure that Europe-originated law that needs to stay will still work and can be upheld in the absence of EU institutions/courts.
He also gave examples of practical cases where EU law and courts have been used to introduce freedoms (and restrictions) in NI: RUC women officer’s right to carry weapons, the elimination of the Irish Government’s 48 Hour Rule (which protected rights of NI traders).
President of the Londonderry Chamber Gavin Killeen gave a local business perspective. Derry is the only city in the UK which trades in two currencies. [Ed – Newry might argue against that!] He argued that the impact of a Brexit would be “more acute in the North West than in the rest of Northern Ireland and the UK”.
The terms of trade would change, businesses will close and jobs will be lost … the impact on the economy in the North West would be significant.
Of course there would be new export opportunities to non-EU countries that could counteract the loss of trade with EU. But NI has little success exporting outside the EU at present.
Gavin spoke of the benefit of having access to highly skilled migrant workers.
We allow our young people to travel around Europe and gain experience … to come back again.
Dáithí O’Ceallaigh was the former Irish Ambassador to the UK and the co-editor of Britain and Europe: The Endgame — An Irish Perspective. Fundamentally he believes that the UK remaining in the EU is good for NI, ROI, UK and the EU. Additionally, security in the world would be much better off if the UK remaining in.
He played down the likelihood of swift trade negotiations Where will the UK find enough people in the UK capable of negotiating all those agreements in order to protect UK trade?
In 2000/1, over 50% of illegal Nigerian migrants were in the Republic of Ireland. “Not one of those Nigerians arrived directly from Nigeria” he said. “Every one of them came through another European country … most from ‘a border not very far away from us’” [ie, the UK].
Dáithi suggested that Immigration posts on the border would be likely, alongside with Customs posts … which would do damage to relationships between north and south built up over last 20 years.
He concluded by noting that if Scotland went independent on the back of UK leaving Europe, the UK Parliament would be (even more) dominated by English MPs. Is that good for Northern Ireland?
Susan HayesCulleton gave a high energy talk that focussed on some of the arguments for Brexit. She challenged the promise that the UK would be able to make its own deals with growing economies across the world unencumbered by other EU countries. The UK certainly wouldn’t be able (legally) to make bilateral agreements with individual EU countries. And the UK does more trade with Germany than the whole Commonwealth. She challenged whether the UK would remain the fifth largest economy in the world.
You could have heard a pin drop as Jim Allister got up to speak. The TUV leader amd MLA began by criticising the “diet of fear you have been fed this morning”. “Unadulterated propaganda” showing the depths that the ‘stay’ campaign has to delve.
What a poor reflection on organisers to serve you Europhile after Europhile … Where’s the balance Londonderry Chamber of Commerce? It isn’t here. Why did you not have a Euroskeptic economist?
Jim continued by calling it “an unmitigated attempt not to get balance or give any insight into a rational debate, but to ram down all our throats in an unquestioning away the sheer propaganda of the Stay campaign”.
He then moved onto debating arguments that had made.
We’re told that ‘poor us’ Northern Ireland couldn’t survive without EU handouts. Every single penny of it is our own money coming back to us, a fraction of what we pay in.
He called it ‘boomerang’ money. He said that the UK’s trade deficit with EU is £59bn (£150m a day): “They sell us more than we sell them”.
Liberate us to trade freely with the rest of the world. The EU in GDP terms is the one part of the world in decline. Over recent decades, Europe’s share of GDP has been woefully in decline, the growth is elsewhere. Yet it is to that moribund area of the world economy that some think we need to tie ourselves. It is by unshackling ourselves that we liberate ourselves to trade where the growth is … in the Far East and elsewhere … Our membership of the EU inhibits our current trade potential.
The EU referendum was not a parochial decision to be made, but one made across the United Kingdom.
He hypothesised that the very same people arguing to stay in the EU this morning were probably previously also in favour of joining the Euro : “Wrong then and wrong now.”
We are a great trading nation being held back by the hideous trading constraints of Europe.
The speeches over, the event moved to a Q&A with the panel of speakers. Jim Allister stood up and calmly explained that while he welcomed the opportunity to address the audience, it wasn’t a good use of his time to sit on a panel that was overwhelming Euro-phile. However, Nuala McMullan quickly crafted a solution and Jim stayed in the room and went up on stage, joined only by economist Angela McGowan.
The questions mostly came from strong ‘No’ advocates and included discussion about the recent EU/Turkey announcement and the reality of a customs on a delivery business that criss crosses the border many times a day.
Alan Meban. Tweets as @alaninbelfast. Blogs about cinema and theatre over at Alan in Belfast. A freelancer who writes about and reports from civic, academic and political events, reviews cultural performances, chairs discussions, and live-tweets, streams and records lectures and conferences. He delivers social media training, coaching and consultancy, produces podcasts, is a member of Ofcom’s Advisory Committee for Northern Ireland, FactCheckNI board member, and is a member of the Corrymeela Community.