Tuesday, 12 April 2016

Brexit and Northern Ireland

 Willie Drennan


Earlier this year I posted a couple of blogs questioning the wisdom of the UK remaining in the EU.  As someone who might be labelled a Eurosceptic I sought input from others on my thoughts on issues of economy and sovereignty.  My research since has confirmed my beliefs that there are serious problems with the EU and I am now more convinced that Brexit is essential. Thankfully many others in the UK seem to arriving at the same conclusion although this doesn’t seem to be the case as yet in Northern Ireland.

I suppose there are several reasons for this.  The main reason seems to be a belief by many Northern Irish that they are, personally, better off financially with the status quo.  This can be explained by the fact that Northern Ireland has a higher economic dependency on the Public Sector and possibly receives more EU Funding per capita than other parts of the UK.  In other words many here personally benefit directly and indirectly from the current system and don’t wish to cut the hand that feeds them. Hopefully many of these EU beneficiaries will realise two things before June 23rd.

The first is that the EU money they receive comes via the UK taxpayer and if their occupation is worthwhile then there is absolutely no reason to suspect that their work will no longer be maintained within an independent UK. There can be little doubt that this will be the case for the farming and fishing industries which are crucial for economic stability in Northern Ireland.

Of course the heads of transnational organisations, banks, universities, quangos and corporate charities etc will be obliged to campaign for Remain as they have been paid handsomely by Brussels to stay on board. You can understand their enthusiastic support for the EU machine but the rest of us need to understand their motives and analyse their scripted prophecy of economic gloom that they claim would come with Brexit.

In Northern Ireland there is clearly not the same concern over uncontrolled mass migration as there is in England.  Communities in England have been facing rapidly expanding ethnic ghettos that are clearly at odds with British culture and ethics. The problems are serious and are intensifying in England at an alarming rate: promoting a belief by many that Brexit will enable the UK to have more control over migration.

Northern Ireland has so far remained immune to this new form of community division. The majority of foreign workers here are East Europeans, and the Poles in particular have proven to be hard workers and an asset to the local economy. There isn’t really much of a culture clash and difficulties within local communities have been minimal.  This could all change in the near future if David Cameron gets his way and millions of Turks are given unlimited access to live and work in the UK: including Northern Ireland.

Another big reason for a fear of Brexit in Northern Ireland is the Remain rhetoric which suggests a detrimental effect on the ‘peace process’ and potential problems with a border across Ireland that would separate the EU from the UK.  Neither of these points have any validity in my mind. First of all, the vast majority of people here are adamant that tribal warfare is something of the past. There is just no appetite for it at all.

The issue of the potential land border between a sovereign UK and the EU have encouraged fears of sealed borders and damage to trade: fears that many Remain campaigners seem happy to fuel. The most important point here is that the Republic of Ireland is not part of the EU’s Schengen Agreement that allows for free movement of people across the borders of most EU states.

The UK and ROI have their own agreement on freedom of movement between the two states.  The people of Ireland and Britain are free to travel and work in either country and there is no chance of that situation changing under Brexit. The issue of customs and different taxation is of course complex but this is already an issue and there is no reason to suspect that this will not continue to be adequately addressed by the appropriate authorities under modified trade and customs agreements.

There also seems to be a bit of a political divide in Northern Ireland with Irish Nationalist parties seeming to be overwhelmingly in favour of keeping the system as is. This is in spite of a previous Eurosceptic stance by Sinn Fein.  Seems to me this is predominantly about party politics and the assumption that the majority of their voters will want to show solidarity with the Republic of Ireland and its marriage with the EU. I would suggest to Irish Nationalists that they should examine the possibility of a Brexit opening up exciting new economic and political possibilities between UK and ROI.  This is a different complex issue for another day but I have previously written about this, on Slugger O Toole, here.

[Okay, at time of writing this on Slugger O Toole I did anticipate an Irish border being problematic following a Brexit. I now understand differently as ROI is not part of Schengen]

Presently it is not totally straightforward for nationalist voters as Sinn Fein, while advocating Remain, have promised to demand a border referendum in Ireland should Northern Ireland vote Remain and the rest of the UK vote Leave. It is also the stance of Scottish Nationalists as they also promise to pursue a new Scottish referendum under such circumstances. This has to be a dilemma  for Irish and Scottish Nationalists, as the possibility of a resounding Remain vote in Northern Ireland and Scotland could very well tip the scales towards Remain for the whole of the UK. This in turn would surely terminate any hopes of separation from the UK until at least 2116: if not forever.

It is worth pondering however, 100 years after the 1916 Easter Rising, what the leaders of that rebellion would have thought about the Ireland of today: that they and fought died for. Perhaps they might reckon contemporary Ireland is now selling its soul to a foreign regime: a regime even further distant from Dublin than London. In particular what would James Connolly have thought? I suspect if he was alive today he would still be campaigning for a sovereign Irish state that prioritised the needs of its citizens as opposed to pandering to elitist transnational corporations. I could be wrong on this and no doubt I will be informed if I am.

On the Ulster Unionist side it is also not totally straight forward as the Ulster Unionist Party has surprisingly come out in favour of Remain. This is disappointing as this party were showing signs of embarking on a refreshingly progressive path that highlighted the needs of the people over party. Their stance however seems to suggest the opposite  -  that this  also is about party politics in the run up to the Stormont elections. It does seem that they have bargained on the initial Brexit concerns, of many in Northern Ireland, still being in place on May 5th.  It is noticeable that to date none of their politicians have been strongly campaigning against Brexit, but at the same time I am not aware of any speaking out against the party line.

It has to be challenging for politicians dealing with regional elections immediately before the EU Referendum.  I have long felt this was part of a strategy by David Cameron: to rush through this referendum before the majority of British people get the chance to fully understand all the implications. It is also challenging for voters to see beyond local and personal circumstances, to see the bigger picture for the region as a whole: especially when governments, corporations and other super-rich powerful stakeholders are bombarding us with their propaganda.

Here’s hoping that my fellow citizens in Northern Ireland will grasp the historic moment and vote for freedom and an exciting new beginning for the UK, and Europe, on June 23rd. Future generations might not forgive us if we don’t.  A vote for more of the same will be a vote for continuation towards an EU super state with greater dominance and control for the super elite. 

No comments:

Post a Comment