It’s common to hear in Northern Ireland that people really have little interest in politics.
It’s partly true, of course. Orange v. Green isn’t the sort of politics to inspire.
In recent weeks, however, I have been impressed by the number of my constituents who do want to talk politics – well, about one particular political issue: Europe.
Should the UK stay in or leave?
My view is clear and unambiguous – it is in the national interest of the UK to remain in the EU.
In an uncertain world, amidst the challenges of global economic instability, terrorism and climate change, the UK’s influence is increased in facing up to these challenges through membership of the EU.
The UK is at its best as a player on the world stage, rather than retreating into an ‘ourselves alone’ approach. EU membership gives us this much greater global influence.
The EU is a massive trading bloc, an internal market of nearly 500 million consumers.
The UK’s trade with the rest of the EU accounts for 45% of our exports.
We could, of course, continue to do some of this business if we were outside the EU. But why would we want to be outside, rather than inside, helping to set the rules? A competitive, open EU is in the interests of the UK - we need to be on the inside, working with others to ensure this.
We also need to face the fact that a decision to leave the EU would be tremendously destabilising for the internal politics of the UK. As the recent UUP vision document admitted: “Next comes the UK referendum on continued membership of the European Union, with the possibility the UK will vote to leave, but Scotland votes to stay in. The UK could yet break up in this generation”. A strong, united UK within the EU or a UK threatened with break-up outside the EU? This is a choice we face.
It is against this background that Prime Minister Cameron is renegotiating key aspects of the UK’s relationship with the EU, securing something that many on the centre-right have been seeking for decades, the UK in Europe but not run by Europe. And as key Labour figures - all of whom had voted against membership of Europe in the 1975 referendum - have recently stated in support of the PM’s renegotiation, the UK is “stronger, safer and better off” inside the EU.
My pro-Union politics means I want a strong, united UK, using its influence for good on the global stage, and being an outward-looking trading and economic power.
This is precisely why I will be voting in the referendum to stay in the EU.
• John McCallister is an independent unionist MLA for South Down