Brexit: Bishops and UK Chancellor warn of border implications

June 13, 2016

As the Brexit referendum approaches on 23rd June, the debate around the issue has intensified, with those in favour of remaining in the EU warning of the potential impact for the local and wider economy of the reintroduction of controls along the border, should a vote to leave the EU be carried.

Last week, Northern Ireland’s Catholic bishops weighed into the discussion, warning of the “profound implications” for trade and economy and for society should border controls be reintroduced.

A statement issued on the second day of the Summer 2016 General Meeting of the Irish Catholic Bishops’ Conference last Wednesday, on behalf of Archbishop of Armagh Eamon Martin, Bishop of Down and Connor Noel Treanor, Bishop of Dromore John McAreavey, Bishop of Clogher Liam MacDaid and Bishop of Derry Donal McKeown, described the decision facing the electorate on June 23 as “charged with far-reaching political, economic and cultural implications” for Ireland and for the whole of the European Union”.

While the statement does not urge the electorate to vote either way, it veers towards making a case for rejecting a Brexit and seems to cite the “disruptive impact” of border controls in Northern Ireland “on the day-to-day life of those who live in border areas or cross the border frequently” as reason to vote to remain in the EU.

The five bishops also highlight “links between the core values of Catholic social teaching and the founding vision of the European Union” and they add that the European contribution to Northern Ireland “in the quest for peace and reconciliation has been evident in many ways, including the creation of important spaces for dialogue, financial support for the work of peace and reconciliation, freedom of movement of people, and the development of infrastructure to support new relationships across the island of Ireland and with the UK.”

The statement cautions against reducing the “wide ranging benefits” of membership to a single calculation of net economic gain or loss and warns that “The valuable work carried out to date to build new relationships across these islands must not be undermined.”

In conclusion the North’s bishops say the referendum “offers a valuable opportunity to ask ourselves how well the European Union is living up to these values today and what we need to do as citizens to ensure that this framework for cooperation continues to guide nations towards global peace, human development and the common good of all peoples and nations,” before encouraging all voters to participate “in this important decision.”

The issue of border controls in the event of a Brexit vote was also raised by Chancellor George Osborne during his whistle-stop tour of the local area on Monday last as part of the Remain campaign.

Mr Osborne cautioned of job losses, increased tariffs and border checks should a Brexit occur.

“If we quit the EU, this is going to be the border with the European Union and all the things that those who want to quit the EU claim would happen – ie: new immigration checkpoints, border controls and an end to free movement  – that has a real consequence,” the Chancellor said during his visit.

“There would be a hardening of the border imposed by the British government or indeed by the Irish government.  That would have an impact on business.”

Mr Osborne also claimed that the economic impact of Brexit here would be even more significant in Northern Ireland “because of the border and customs checks that would have to be implemented.”  He said it was inevitable that a vote to leave the EU would lead to changes in border arrangements which “is simply not a price worth paying. Northern Ireland is the most pro-EU part of the UK, so I urge people to make sure they are registered ahead of the deadline and turn out in force on June 23rd and back the Remain campaign.”