It is 43 years since Ireland and Great Britain joined the EU. Now the EU entails a block of 28 countries which holds considerable sway in international affairs. On 23rd June, Great Britain’s electorate will vote on whether to remain within or to leave the Union. As always, it is those closest who will be hurt the most if ‘Brexit’ goes ahead. Great Britain is overwhelmingly Ireland’s largest trading partner.
Some €1 billion worth of goods and services are bought and sold between the two islands every week. I come from a farming background in County Kildare. For many years, our household income and livelihood depended on the fluctuating rate of sterling for agricultural produce which was being exported to England on a weekly basis. The potential for damage cannot be overstated. Ireland is dependent on its next-door neighbour and the effects that could arise from that neighbour stepping out of well-established free-trade agreements are far-reaching. Great Britain and Ireland are joined at the economic hip regardless of whether we like it.
A recent ESRI report states, that should Britain exit the EU, this would likely result in custom barriers going up, with a possible fall of 20 per cent in trade between Ireland and the UK. The UK accounted for 15 per cent of Irish merchandise exports in 2014, one of our most lucrative markets. Trade barriers following a ‘Brexit’ would impact on the food processing industry, one of Ireland’s growing markets – indeed, half of our food exports last year went to the UK.
The ESRI also warned that Britain would have to re-negotiate its trade deals with members of the EU; Britain could no longer take advantage as an EU member, of trade deals across the world. ESRI analysis also suggested that Britain would lose foreign direct investment (FDI) if it exited the EU, leading to slower growth in the UK which in turn, would impact on Ireland.
EU Reform Needed
Many are critical of the deficiencies of the EU model in terms of red tape and frustrating slowness in bringing about a genuine single market fit to compete for global trade and investment. However, nobody believes that Europe will be stronger without the people and the businesses of Great Britain. The EU has created and maintains an area of peace and stability on a continent that was ravaged by war for centuries.
Our countries are highly interdependent and we need to find common solutions to common problems in many areas. Certainly the EU needs to carry out a lot of work, especially with regard to the Single Market and the fact that there are many goods and services that cannot be traded freely at all. Many local standards are still in existence.
The EU is not perfect and is facing many challenges. Reform is required. However, it has been at the helm of innovative and transformative policies that have enhanced social, cultural and legal rights in Ireland and Great Britain. The values of the EU – those of liberty, equality, democracy, the rule of law and respect for human rights – have served us well. We need a European Union that enables us and neighbouring countries to work together in our common interests and we need common rules for our Common Market to provide for fairness, equal opportunities and environmental and consumer protection.
My colleagues in Fianna Fáil hope that, despite the challenges, Great Britain will recognise the many positive benefits of EU membership and vote to remain on 23rd June. A vote to remain is a vote for European solidarity and cohesion and one that Fianna Fáil strongly endorses. Ireland is co-dependent on the UK and we are Great Britain’s largest customer for exports. We are joined in many industries such as leisure, racing and food, to name just a few.
It is also worth noting that an estimated 500,000 Irish people based in England, Scotland and Wales are eligible to vote on 23 June. These potential voters are rightly being strongly targeted by the “Remain” campaign.
UK Treasury Report
The recently published report by the UK Treasury correlates the findings of the ESRI Report and warns of the negative impact that leaving the EU would have on Britain. It states that Great Britain would never recover from the economic damage caused thereof. It places particular focus on the damage that could impact on Northern Ireland and its economy, and states that leaving would damage trade with Ireland as customs controls/barriers are likely to be introduced.
Cross Border Activity and Trade Flows
The report also states that outside the customs union, goods being exported across the Border could be subject to various forms of customs controls and their liability to duty determined according to complex rules of origin.
This would affect the current high level of cross-Border activity and trade flows. If it materialises, the departure of Great Britain from the EU will have many implications for Northern Ireland. Much of the social, cultural and economic functioning between North and South and between Ireland and Great Britain is simplified by the fact that both countries are EU members, which has allowed us to forge common bonds at EU level and to foster good working relationships.
Undoubtedly, the positive relationships and common bonds developed at EU level were and continue to be central to the workings of the Good Friday Agreement and the peace process. It would be an immense blow to our capacity to work together to secure peace and stability in Northern Ireland.
FF Commitment to EU
Despite the challenges, the Fianna Fáil Party remains steadfast in its commitment to the European Union and its founding principles, and while it is a matter for Britain alone to decide its fate on this issue, we are of the opinion that a British exit from the European Union will not serve the best interests of the island of Ireland.
I say to those in Britain it is better to negotiate around a table than outside. I have had the honour of representing Ireland on the Committee of the Regions and the opportunity to work with politicians from the 28 EU countries on issues of European and international importance. There is no better way than negotiating, talking, listening, understanding and finding consensus.
This referendum will be a defining moment in the history of the European Union, the outcome of which could irrevocably change the nature of the Union. I firmly believe a ‘Brexit’ would be the wrong decision for Britain, Europe, Northern Ireland and for the Irish people.
EU Residents in Co Kildare, Have your say!
Therefore, I ask all British residents living here to register, and particularly, those of you living in Co Kildare, and vote in the Referendum on June 23rd. The registration process is straightforward and can be completed online. Once this has been completed, eligible voters can avail of a postal ballot to have their voice heard. The deadline to register is June 7th. Votes can be cast by proxy or by returning to the UK to vote in person – see www.gov.uk/register-to-vote.