MPs’ scrutiny of the possible impact of Brexit on NI is welcome

Morning View
Morning View

The voters of Northern Ireland face perhaps their biggest political decision since the formation of the state in 1921.

The outcome of the EU referendum in June will have lasting ramifications for the Province, possibly more so than in any other part of the UK.

The 1975 referendum on joining what was then the European Economic Community (EEC), which was narrowly approved in Northern Ireland, was a bigger decision than it seemed at the time. That it was called an ‘economic community’ and is now the European Union is a reflection of how Europe has moved from a trade deal into something approaching a state.

But even that decision was less momentous than the one that faces Northern Ireland in the early summer. The power of the current EU is such that leaving or staying is a huge choice.

The 1973 border poll was also less significant than this coming one, because support for the Union was not in doubt (nationalists, in boycotting that vote, did so partly on the grounds that everyone knew what the outcome would be). Only the 1998 Belfast Agreement referendum was obviously on a par with this plebiscite in terms of magnitude.

The coming vote will have far-reaching consequences for Scotland, given the strength of nationalism there and the diverging sentiments towards Europe among Scottish separatists and English eurosceptics. But Northern Ireland is at least as affected by the coming decision. We too have a nationalist population that is strongly pro Europe but we are also the part of the UK that has a long land border with a committed EU state. The Province is also more reliant on agriculture than much of the UK, which will influence many voters here.

The fact that the DUP has declared for Brexit while the UUP has opted for Remain shows the split on this issue.

There are still 15 weeks to examine arguments on both sides. The Northern Ireland Affairs Committee of MPs is scrutinising the likely impact of Brexit on the Province. It is a subject that badly needs such scrutiny.