We need a cross-community approach to keep NI together amid Brexit

Brexit is the most divisive and indeed destabilising issues facing the UK for decades. This is particularly so for Northern Ireland.

Thursday, 30th November 2017, 7:00 am
Updated Tuesday, 12th December 2017, 10:25 am
Letters to editor

Brexit is the most divisive and indeed destabilising issues facing the United Kingdom for decades.

This is particularly so for Northern Ireland. Given its nature, and the interdependent relationships across these islands, Northern Ireland can only work through sharing and consensus.

Yet, Brexit entails new divisions and barriers.

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A pro-Brexit slogan in loyalist Tiger's Bay, Belfast. Stephen Farry has said unionists and nationalists are taking seemingly mutually-exclusive approaches to Brexit.

At present, Northern Ireland is being pulled apart, with the collapse of devolution inter-related to seemingly mutually exclusive approaches to Brexit from unionists and nationalists.

Our economy is also highly interdependent, with crucial links both east-west and north-south, and onwards into the European Union and beyond, regarding sales, supply chains, plus much more.

Through the EU and in particular the Single market and Customs union, we are part of the largest economic entity in the world, which also provides a platform for opening new opportunities in the rest of the world.

The Single market is about so much more than the movement of goods and avoidance of tariffs, it embraces the faster growing service sector.

A pro-Brexit slogan in loyalist Tiger's Bay, Belfast. Stephen Farry has said unionists and nationalists are taking seemingly mutually-exclusive approaches to Brexit.

Northern Ireland also has relatively strong dependency on access to labour over a range of skills levels.

This point is universally cited by employers here.

It would be so much better if the UK as a whole opted to stay in the Single market and for a new Customs union with the EU that replicates the current arrangement.

However, if this is not the case, then a special deal for Northern Ireland becomes essential for political stability and cohesion.

The challenge goes beyond just avoiding a hard border either across the island of Ireland or down the Irish Sea, which would be avoided if the UK as a whole remains within a Customs union with the EU. It is about providing fresh economic opportunities, building on the success stories of recent years and becoming even more attractive location for investors.

Alliance has therefore proposed that the best route to not only protect and develop the regional economy is for Northern Ireland to remain within the Single market.

The UK and EU Single markets are not mutually exclusive and it is possible for Northern Ireland to have a foot in both.

Each is of fundamental importance, and we must avoid a forced and artificial binary choice.

This approach would be entirely consistent with the current constitutional position and the Principle of Consent.

It would be a ‘devolution max’ situation to allow this region to remain fully in compliance with EU Law.

Any regulatory divergence between Northern Ireland and Great Britain can be managed.

In any event, the benefits of continued participation within the Single market far outweigh any costs.

And besides, this isn’t exactly new territory as all five main parties, including the DUP and UUP, have advocated Northern Ireland having a different economic system based around a lower rate of Corporation Tax.

We must position this region to not only survive but to thrive.

But to achieve this, we need a cross-community approach focused on keeping Northern Ireland together.

Stephen Farry MLA, Alliance Party Brexit spokesman