With less than 40 days to go until the EU referendum on the 23rd of June, the issue of our membership of the EU has come to dominate discussion and debate in Westminster.
Divides on whether or not we stay in Europe has become a kind of ‘politics behind the politics’, with the Government benches particularly divided. However, beneath the high political drama of who’s In and who’s Out, in the last number of weeks real details have emerged that can help inform the decision of everyone voting in June.
Some of the details have been practical – for instance, we now know that the voter registration deadline for the referendum will be Tuesday 7 June. We know as well that the vote will be open to all Irish citizens living in Britain or Northern Ireland. But we have also seen information begin to be released that gives us an indication of the kind of region we can expect to find ourselves living in should we vote to leave.
The first warning came from a Cabinet Office report published in February, which specifically highlighted that, outside the European Customs Union, ‘it would be necessary to impose custom checks on the movement of goods across the border.’ Anyone living near the border or who relies on cross-border trade to make a living can see how detrimental this would be for our economy and future growth.
More recently, the Treasury has cautioned that there are 50,000 manufacturing jobs in Northern Ireland which are reliant on exports to the European Union, and that even the uncertainty created by negotiating an exit would put these jobs at risk. Meanwhile in the House Commons, Government Ministers have consistently denied the DUP claims that leaving the EU would leave more money to be spent on Northern Ireland.
I still believe in what John Hume told us many years ago – that the European Union is the best example in the world of conflict resolution and reconciliation. Now, as the date of the referendum draws ever closer, we are seeing more and more evidence that the EU is not just right for peace, but for prosperity as well.
In such circumstances, we in the SDLP believe that the best course of action for the people of Northern Ireland in terms of political and economic cohesion is to remain in the European Union.
Margaret Ritchie, MP South Down, Member of the EFRA Select Committee at Westminster