WHY I BACK REMAIN: Mike Nesbitt

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Ahead of Thursday’s momentous vote, the News Letter asked four major Northern Ireland voices why they are supporting Brexit or staying in the European Union. We have two responses for Remain and two for Leave. Here Mike Nesbitt explains his view:

The European Union has never fired my heart with a passion for all things yellow and blue, but Thursday is not the day for emotions. It’s the day to use your head, and my head says we must Remain.

Mike Nesbitt

Mike Nesbitt

When the Ulster Unionist Party debated the referendum many weeks ago, a hard headed debate reached the conclusion that, on balance, Northern Ireland was better off remaining within the EU, with the United Kingdom government arguing for further reform, aimed at a return to the founding principle of free trade, and away from the drive for further political union.

Simply, the argument to exit has not been made and the logic lacks rigour.

If our sovereignty was really under significant threat, we would have euro not sterling in our back pockets, we would have been forced to sign the Schengen Agreement, and would not have a veto over whether Turkey can join the EU.

Brexiteers believe we should leave because the UK is a net financial contributor and therefore we will be better off if we no longer have to send money to Brussels.

The logic of that is we should support Scottish Independence, as the Treasury sends even more money to Edinburgh that Brussels.

So, for a unionist, there is clearly a fatal flaw in the financial argument for Brexit.

Beyond that, look at the political map of the UK and you will see the constituencies that are Conservative blue are predominantly in the south of England.

The realpolitik is that there is no realistic prospect that Northern Ireland would be better off out.

Access to the European Union’s 500 million consumers is critical to our local economy and our ability to grow the private sector through continued Foreign Direct Investment. If we are Out, we will enter what investors and the business community hate almost above anything – a long period of uncertainty. But there would be one inevitability.

The remaining 27 member states are not going to sit around the table and agree that they must offer the UK more favourable trading terms than they offer themselves!

The Single Market works only when you agree and apply common standards, including employee rights and environmental protections. So, again the logic of the Out camp fails, as negotiating a re-entry to the Single Market will require another “surrender of sovereignty”.

And there is the future of another union – between Great Britain and Northern Ireland.

Scotland will seek a second independence referendum in the event of Brexit, plunging the UK into deeper uncertainty.

Unionists should be confident that a vote to remain is not only the better option regarding the European Union, it also strengthens the future of the United Kingdom.

This piece and some other contributions on this page were submitted before the death of Jo Cox

Mike Nesbitt is Ulster Unionist leader

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