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Brexit: Shock Leave results plunges North into state of uncertainty

June 27, 2016

The victory for the Leave campaign came as a shock to many when results of the EU Referendum emerged early on Friday. Despite the majority in Northern Ireland voting to remain in the European Union, we now find ourselves in unchartered waters with no definitive answer to many questions and fears for the future.

In the long term, the move will see significant changes, the effects of which will be keenly felt in rural areas, particularly those along the border.  As yet, little has been suggested to allay concerns of a reinstatement of the ‘hard border’ experienced during the height of the Troubles when vehicles were routinely stopped and searched, as it’s likely the EU will insist on some form of checks on the movement of people for security reasons, and goods, for the purposes of gathering any taxes due on products entering its territory from a non-member state.

The result has also plunged the agriculture industry into a state of quandary with farmers reliant on EU subsidies now fearful for their livelihood.

Shock Brexit result sparks economic and border concerns

As the reality of the UK vote to leave the European Union after 43 years began to sink in over the weekend, questions remain for Newry and Armagh constituents over its impact on Northern Ireland and particularly its border with the Republic of Ireland.  On a local level, as the Brexit result emerged on Friday morning, the general consensus was one of overwhelming shock and disappointment.  This was demonstrated by voting figures which showed that 62.9% of voters in the Newry and Armagh area voted to remain in the EU.

The Brexit decision came despite Northern Ireland voting to remain in the EU by a majority of 56% to 44%.  However Britain as a whole voted to leave the European Union by a narrow margin with a turnout of 72 per cent.

Leave won the referendum with 51.9 per cent (17,410,742 votes), while Remain finished on 48.1 per cent (16,141,241 votes).

The result has led to a plethora of questions over what it means for Northern Ireland as the only part of the UK that physically borders an EU country.   The questions arising on the impact of Brexit are particularly important for the border areas of Newry and South Armagh with growing speculation that it could mean a return to physical borders between the North and South, something which would heavily impact on both the free movement of people and the transfer of goods.

Border concerns were paramount amongst the Remain camp ahead of the historic referendum, with local political representatives from both Sinn Fein and the SDLP warning that a vote to leave would have huge implications for the area.  In the wake of the Brexit result Sinn Fein immediately called for a border poll. Sinn Féin MLA Conor Murphy said the conditions now existed for a referendum on Irish unity and he said it was incumbent that the Irish government and all Irish nationalist parties support the demand for a border poll. Mr Murphy said the British government had “no mandate to drag the north of Ireland out of the EU,” nor has it a mandate to re-erect border controls “or to represent the views of the north in any future negotiations with the EU.”

The notion of a border poll was shot down by Secretary of State Theresa Villiers who said the circumstances for which it would be called do not exist.

“The Good Friday Agreement is very clear that the circumstances where the secretary of state is required to have a border poll is where there is reason to believe there would be a majority support for a united Ireland.  There is nothing to indicate that in any of the opinion surveys that have taken place,” she said.  Ms Villiers, who has been vociferous in her support for a Leave vote, said she was delighted with the Brexit result and remained confident that “with common sense between us, the UK and Ireland can maintain a border which is just as open after a Brexit vote as it has been for many years.”

As the country moved into unchartered waters, perhaps the one silver lining for the local area and other border towns in the north will be the influx of shoppers from the Republic of Ireland eager to cash in on the plummeting value of sterling as the pound slumped to its weakest level in more than three decades in the immediate aftermath of the Brexit result on Friday.

That slump led to one local Bureau de Change owner on the old Dublin Road in Newry to report his busiest day ever on Friday as customers clambered to change their holiday cash into Euros before the sterling value fell any further.

The historic referendum which brought to an end the 43 year relationship with the European Union will certainly have wide reaching global consequences and the shock result promptly led to the resignation of British Prime Minister, David Cameron, who promised the referendum as part of his parliamentary campaign three years ago.  Mr Cameron announced on Friday morning that he would continue for three more months in his post then step down in October.

The result also prompted a parliamentary petition calling for a second referendum. The peition launched on Friday become the fastest petition on parliament.uk to reach the 100,000 signature threshold that requires it to be considered for debate by MPs.

The petition had attracted almost 3 million signees by Sunday evening  and a response from the Home Office on a second referendum is expected in the coming days.

For now, the uncertainty continues for everyone as questions about the full impact of the Brexit vote on all aspects of life in Newry and Armagh and in Northern Ireland, remain unanswered.

Farmers among biggest losers

Farmers will be among the biggest losers following Britain’s decision to leave the EU, south Armagh MLA Megan Fearon has said, adding that the agriculture industry will now face “serious problems”.

“In terms of the Common Agriculture Policy (CAP) alone, farmers here stand to lose in the region of €34,000 a year, which would cripple their livelihoods.  This is not to mention the impact restrictions on cross-border trading would have,” Ms Fearon claims.

“The agriculture industry, one of the most vital industries on this island, now faces serious problems.  The British government has no democratic mandate to represent the views of the people of the north and I have absolutely no faith that they will fight for interests of Irish farmers in their negotiations with the EU.”

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