Two big hitters in the EU referendum debate were in Northern Ireland to debate the consequences of a possible Brexit yesterday.
Daniel Hannan MEP and Lord Mandelson went head to head in a debate hosted by Manufacturing NI at Belfast Harbour Commissioners, and they also debated the issue on BBC Radio Ulster’s Talkback.
The News Letter talked to the two men after their public appearances and grilled them on the consequences for the Irish land border after a UK withdrawal, which is one of the issues on which they most passionately disagree.
Mr Hannan, a Conservative Member of the European Parliament for the South East of England (who says that he will be happy if voters make him redundant on June 23), dismissed fears of a return to border checks after Breixt.
“There has never been a properly closed border since 1923,” he said. “No-one in either Dublin or Westminster is proposing to have one now.”
Mr Hannan explained: “The point that cannot be made too often is that the Common Travel Area currently includes both EU states and non EU states so it is not something new that we need to work out, we are doing it now.
“We have the Irish Republic and the UK, which are in the EU, and we also have the Isle of Man and the Channel Islands, which are not in the EU and they are all in the Common Travel Area. So as a matter of observable fact it is possible to be outside the EU and maintain the rights and privileges of common travel that we have today.”
Mr Hannan noted that Ireland and the UK had stayed out of the Schengen passport-free travel area, and that they had taken a collective decision to do that “partly to preserve the Common Travel Area”.
He added: “Who can now doubt that we were right to do that, if you look at the disaster unfolding in the Schengen zone on the continent.”
Mr Hannan said that there had been times when relations between London and Dublin were much worse than now, yet the Common Travel Area had survived those times and it would also survive Brexit.
Lord Mandelson, a former Secretary of State for Northern Ireland and former EU trade commissioner, took a sharply different view.
He told the News Letter: “If the UK votes to leave the EU for very many people that will be because they want to stop the free movement of people coming from elsewhere in Europe to the UK and you will have a new government after David Cameron has been overthrown that will be completely committed to making sure that that free movement is ended.
“You’re not going to have that and at the same time keep open your back door to the rest of the UK on the only land border that we will have between the UK and the rest of the EU kept open for anyone to come into the UK. It is not going to happen.”
The Manufacturing NI debate panel also included DUP MEP Diane Dodds, Sinn Fein MEP Martina Anderson, ex- head of EU Commission office in NI, Dennis Kennedy, and Dr Thia Hennessy, head of agriculture and food development in the Republic.
Ms Dodds, a Brexit supporter, said David Cameron in his renegotiation had “asked for little to nothing and he secured even less”.
MEP ROUNDS OFF TW0-DAY VISIT
Conservative MEP and ‘Vote Leave’ campaigner Dan Hannan will be speaking a Brexit event at the Ballymena Showgrounds this morning.
TUV leader Jim Allister said he was delighted to welcome his fellow Eurosceptic to Co Antrim.
“His skill and passion is amply demonstrated by this recent contribution in a debate.
“Anyone wanting to better understand the arguments in this vital referendum should make it their business to come to the Ballymena Showgrounds on 4 June. This is an event not to be missed,” Mr Allister said.
Yesterday, Mr Hannan carried out a number of engagements – including a screening of ‘Brexit The Movie’ at The Strand picture house on Belfast’s Holywood Road. Ukip’s David McNarry also addressed the audience at the Strand.