Europe is now the biggest issue facing both Britain and NI

News Letter editorial
News Letter editorial

At the last general election, Europe was not even close to the top of the list of issues that caused voters the most concern.

In Northern Ireland, the political parties’ views on Europe were barely discussed.

The fact that Europe, which was once an issue that seemed to be tearing the Conservative Party apart (and which caused a fair amount of tension within Labour too), was not much on the radar was seen as a sign of a healthy discourse.

Yet Europe is the biggest question of all in British politics today. It is the biggest question here in Northern Ireland too.

Europe and the Middle East have been convulsed by turmoil that could yet tear the EU apart.

David Cameron was right to call an In-Out EU referendum, as he was right to facilitate a referendum on Scotland.

The former was needed because the British people have had no say on Europe for 40 years, and the UK is now a member of something entirely different from the EEC we joined.

The latter was necessary because, whether we like it or not, there has been an awakening of Scottish nationalism. Madrid’s efforts to smother a similar awakening in Catalonia have only exacerbated the drift towards a break-up there.

But we need to be clear about the fact that a UK departure from the EU makes a Scottish exit from the UK likely.

There are, as the widely respected Northern Irish Labour MP Kate Hoey told the TUV conference on Saturday, both left wing and right voices who want the UK to quit the EU.

But from a Northern Irish unionist perspective, there are also arguments to be made on both sides of the EU debate.

Last year, there was minimal local interest in the Scottish referendum until late in the poll, when exit seemed possible.

We must not leave it so late to immerse ourselves in the EU debate. It should be discussed at Westminster, at Stormont, in councils, in the media and in pubs and churches and living rooms across the Province.