The arguments continue right down to the wire. The referendum has cut across the unionist/nationalist divide and – (nothing unusual here) – has split unionism. What is rarer is the DUP’s failure to press home their traditional case with the traditional fervour, suggesting they have doubts about it themselves, as Stephen McCaffery argues in The Detail. Sammy Wilson’s pitch for Leave has only one sentence directly about Northern Ireland and steers clear of concerns over a hard border.
A leave vote will release billions of pounds which we currently pay to the EU for public spending in Northern Ireland.
The Impartial Reporter no less, secured an interview with David Cameron who gave his most explicit warning yet about the threat of a hard border. He uses the interview to slap down the local champion Arlene Foster.
“Arlene Foster is fundamentally wrong in her assertion about free trade agreements..
“The UK has free trade with the rest of the EU, including the Republic of Ireland, because we are in a single market. That means no tariffs, no barriers; meaning more jobs, prosperity and opportunities. It’s improved living standards for people in the UK and Ireland immeasurably.
People might say ‘well, the Common Travel Area has been in existence since the 1920s, that would just continue regardless’. But a lot has changed since then. Indeed, many in the Irish Parliament, the Irish Government and indeed two of my predecessors as prime minister have all suggested the agreement might become redundant if the UK leaves the EU.”
“Then there are the symbolic implications, of passport checks being conducted between the two nations on the island of Ireland or the similarly unpalatable prospect of checks on people from Northern Ireland travelling within the UK. Life could look very different for people in the Border counties and beyond,” he said.
In terms of cross-Border trade, Mr. Cameron claimed that exports “would be subject to so-called rules of origin that would require customs procedures of some sort at the North-South land Border.”
“That would mean added time, costs and complications for companies. That would affect business. It would hit jobs. It would slow growth.”
The Leave side has created strange bedfellows from David Trimble to the dissident republican political group Erigi, as Henry McDonald points out in the Guardian.
In the Irish Times, the normally urbane historian Roy Foster lets rip against the Leave supporters in the cabinet. No hesitation here about playing the woman.
I also have to say that the people heading Brexit – there is not a single figure among them who I would see as intellectually reputable or worth listening to. I think the repellent opportunism, superficiality and implicit racism of Boris Johnson and Michael Gove and Nigel Farage is the worst of Britain.
“And I also reserve a special fury for the dimwitted secretary of state forNorthern Ireland, the incredibly inadequate Theresa Villiers, who has, purely for opportunistic political reasons I should think, put herself in the front row of the Brexit people when, as everybody knows, this is one of the most divisive issues in Northern Ireland and a Brexit vote would be a disastrous setback for the advances that we have seen in the province and in relations between the Republic and Northern Ireland.”
According to an Ipsos Mori poll for the Belfast Telegraph published yesterday, support for Remain is slipping but not enough to reverse the overall trend in favour. There is a large number of undecided. Expectations of turnout at 68% are higher than those for the Assembly elections last month.
37% of all respondents want to Remain, down from 44% in March. And there was a 6% increase in the number of people across both communities who believe that the UK would fare better out of the EU, up from 20% to 26% in the past two months.
38% of Protestants surveyed believe that the UK would be stronger out of the EU – a 10% increase on the last poll, while 27% favour the Remain position, a drop of 7%, and 36% are still undecided. Nationalist support for staying in the EU has fallen since the last survey, down from 56% to 49%. But Catholics are still strongly in favour of Europe, with just 12% opting for the Leave argument.
However, more say they are undecided or don’t know, up from 27% to 38%, perhaps reflecting the levels of confusion caused by the strident claims and counter-claims of campaigners on both sides.
Former BBC journalist and manager in Belfast, Manchester and London, Editor Spolight; Political Editor BBC NI; Current Affairs Commissioning editor BBC Radio 4; Editor Political and Parliamentary Programmes, BBC Westminster; former London Editor Belfast Telegraph. Hon Senior Research Fellow, The Constitution Unit, Univ Coll. London