‘Remain’ campaign steps up as Brexit referendum approaches

June 20, 2016

As the electorate prepares to vote in Thursday’s crucial EU referendum, a local poll carried out by SDLP councillor Gary Stokes revealed that around 1 in 4 people in the Newry area will be voting to leave the EU due to concerns over the effect of immigration on employment and the health service. Councillor Stokes said between 20 – 25 percent of people he and his SDLP Pro Remain team spoke to last week were in favour of a Brexit due to immigration concerns and because of a belief that leaving the EU would expedite a border poll for a United Ireland.

The SDLP councillor said he was “quite shocked and worried” at the results of his walkabout poll, given the city’s close proximity to the border.

“There is so much that Newry gets out of being within the EU and there are so many reasons against leaving, particularly funding and the possibility of customs and passport control,” he said.

“I’m a nationalist and I would like to see a united Ireland,” he added, “but it’s a big, big risk if people are considering voting to leave on the chance that it might enhance the prospect of a united Ireland.

Mr Stokes said in reality a majority Unionist population want to stay in the UK and warned that leaving the EU “will make partition worse.”

Border concerns are paramount amongst the Remain camp with British Prime Minister David Cameron also issuing a timely caution on post-Brexit border control, restating that a vote to leave means a return to land borders between the north and south of Ireland or passport checks in Belfast for people going to Britain.

Taking his last Prime Minister’s Questions before next Thursday’s vote, Mr Cameron said that the UK could not leave the union while making a fuss about borders and expect their own to be untouched.  He added that there were “risks” to the North in a Brexit and urged people in the North to avoid those.

Ahead of Thursday’s vote Sinn Fein MEP Martina Anderson toured the Newry and Armagh constituency also urging the public to vote Remain.

The European representative was joined by local politicians as she spoke to locals about what she described as “the dangers of apathy and sleepwalking into an EU exit.”

Along with Armagh MLA Cathal Boylan and MP Mickey Brady, she canvassed shoppers in the city before going on to meet Anne Cadwallader and representatives from the Pat Finucane centre to discuss concerns that an EU exit could have implications for families seeking truth and justice from the European Court.

In Newry she was joined by MLA Conor Murphy and Dr. Conor Patterson of the Newry and Mourne Enterprise Agency where she met with local media to discuss the possible effects of a leave vote on businesses here.

Ms Anderson warned that the strategic and political implications of Brexit “run entirely counter to Irish national interests” and that the North “will suffer considerably in the event of a Brexit.”

Estimating the combined financial loss of EU investment, subsidies and funds to the north of Ireland, and the southern border counties in the region of at least €3.5 billion, she referred to a Department of Enterprise, Trade and Investment (DETI) report which stated that trade with the South of Ireland would suffer hugely and the economic output in the North would decrease by at least five per cent.

Emphasising the negative economic implications for the North, she shared figures revealed by Ulster Bank that show three quarters of social enterprises, charities and community organisations have major concerns about the impact of a Brexit on their business as well as the investment bank Credit Suisse’s assessment that an exit would trigger a snap recession prompted by a fall in share prices.

“The case for Brexit is not motivated or sustained by alternative and better strategies or policies. Instead it is the product of a growth in influence by narrow English nationalism linked to conservative, Tory ideological interests,” said the Sinn Fein MEP.

Travelling to south Armagh where she joined local farmers at the Carragher farm outside Crossmaglen to discuss the possible implications for the agricultural industry, the EU representative admitted that the Eu was in need of reform but said her party was “committed to working for a more democratic Europe, a greener Europe and a Better Europe.”

“The lion’s share of the EU budget goes to farmers and rural communities through the Common Agricultural Policy.

“That would be lost in the event of a Brexit. Local farmers would lose £236m each year in direct payments. It would also take £186 million from our Rural Development Programme.

“Sinn Féin have challenged the British government’s Secretary of State to say how this will be replaced but she has repeatedly failed to answer.

“That is why we are campaigning for farmers and rural dwellers to Put Ireland First and vote to Remain in the EU.”

Meanwhile, the Irish government has reported an unprecedented demand for Irish passports ahead of the referendum, resulting in the hiring of 200 temporary staff to cope with the demand.   Irish Foreign Minister Charlie Flanagan refused to be drawn on any link to the referendum but acknowledged “the factual position that there is a heightened interest in passport application and Irish citizenship.”

If Britain leaves the EU, those with Irish passports will remain EU citizens making it easier for them to travel throughout the continent.