A couple of weeks ago I had the privilege of visiting Northern Ireland to represent Vote Leave at an EU referendum event for young people in Belfast with a fantastic youth organisation called Youth Action Northern Ireland. I would like to outline some of the points that I raised during conversations with voters and to address the shameful comments made by Sir John Major and Tony Blair this week.
In whichever part of the United Kingdom you live, voting to leave the EU will return powers our local communities and to individual voters, who should be able to elect the people who make our laws. The Northern Irish Assembly would have many powers that currently reside with the EU immediately devolved to them and the devolved assemblies. Examples of this include regional spending, fishing and agriculture.
What strikes me is how much the EU has undermined democratic government in Northern Ireland. The Government has to ensure every single one of their policies comply with EU law. The EU don’t care about what our elected representatives think as they have no powers to change it. This is damaging for democracy.
It is absolutely essential that excellent relations between Northern Ireland and the Republic of Ireland are maintained for future generations. The Good Friday Agreement – which has nothing to do with the EU – was a bilateral treaty between the Government of Ireland and Her Majesty’s Government, and was endorsed by referendums on both sides of the border. We have had peaceful and prosperous relations for years and there is no reason why this shouldn’t continue after we leave. As the Irish Ambassador to London, Daniel Mulhall has said: “We would continue to work together with the UK with regard to Northern Ireland. The provisions of the Good Friday Agreement would still apply fully”. So if we Vote Leave it would not mean a return of the Troubles and it is disgraceful scaremongering to suggest that the Peace Process would be put at risk if we Vote Leave.
The Remain side scaremonger that there will be, all of a sudden, brand new custom duties and barriers to travel due to the border. It is worth pointing out here that there has been a passport free Common Travel Area since 1923; years before the EU even existed. The EU-Ireland Common Travel Area is enshrined in UK and Irish law and has never required any EU input. The Northern Ireland Secretary, the Rt. Hon Theresa Villiers MP has said that “I think the land border we share with Ireland can be as free-flowing after a Brexit vote as it is today”. Customs duties are in nobody’s best interests and the EU has allowed countries to have customs-free access to non-EU countries. This will be the case for us.
Farming is a massive industry in Northern Ireland and it is important to get the best deal for those hardworking farmers. After we Vote Leave, farming subsidies to Northern Irish farmers would continue. Our country has a proud history of supporting our farmers before we joined the EU. When we regain the £350 million that we send to Brussels every week, we will be able to continue to give farmers as much support, or perhaps more, than they get now. If you look at non-EU countries such as Norway and Switzerland, they actually give more support to their farmers than we do.
I know that quite a few Northern Irish people are worried about losing EU structural funds for regeneration projects. If we stopped sending money to faceless, unelected, unaccountable bureaucrats every week, then we could even increase the amount that we invest in Northern Ireland with the windfall. As Nigel Dodds MP, Deputy Leader of the DUP, points out, leaving would mean “a lot more money available to the UK and Northern Ireland … We will be better off, we will have better control over our laws and borders. We will make the decisions”. The fact is that we send £20 billion to the EU every year. For every £2 we put in, we only get £1 back. We can therefore more than afford to match EU funds.
For those who might be worried that voting to leave the EU would mean an end to our United Kingdom, these pessimistic claims from the Remain side are utter nonsense. This is a UK-wide referendum so if our four nations as a whole Vote Leave on the 23rd June, it will be because many Northern Irish voters have chosen to Vote Leave too. I don’t believe for a second that somehow Northern Ireland is much more pro-EU than the rest of the UK. Recent polling shows that support in Northern Ireland for remaining in the EU has fallen and when I recently visited this was reflected in the conversations that I had. There will not be a second Scottish referendum because this decision was done and dusted for a generation in September 2014 and Nicola Sturgeon doesn’t even have a full mandate to hold another anytime soon. We can see that across the UK, undecided voters are clearly moving towards Vote Leave because we want to take back control from Brussels bureaucrats.
Whilst I fully respect Sir John Major and Tony Blair, as former Prime Ministers who were instrumental in the peace process in Northern Ireland, it was highly irresponsible for them to claim a vote to leave the EU would put that stability at risk. Brexit-backing Theresa Villiers rightfully outlined how “Support for the peace process in Northern Ireland is rock solid. The vast majority of people in Northern Ireland believe their future should only ever be determined by democracy and consent and not by violence…Whatever the result of the referendum, Northern Ireland is not going back to the troubles of its past…There would be risks to manage but they are not significantly more serious than risks that are already managed effectively today through bilateral co-operation between the UK and Ireland.”
On the 23rd June, I would encourage all Northern Irelanders to back Brexit. If we Vote Leave and take back control, we can elect our decision makers and spend more money on our priorities such as our NHS, schools, housing cutting VAT on family bills and supporting farmers.
Joe Porter is a Parish Councillor in Staffordshire Moorlands, Deputy Chairman (Political) for West Midlands Conservative Future, West Midlands Chairman for Young Liberty, President of Keele Students for Britain and the Vote Leave Constituency Campaign Coordinator for Staffordshire Moorlands. He studies Marketing and Politics at Keele University, where he has a particular passion for local British politics and is a Trustee of Keele Student Union.