As predicted by many, the UK Prime Minister David Cameron has announced that the UK ‘In-Out’ referendum will take place on June 23rd. PM Cameron returned from Brussels last week telling the British public as well as his own Conservative ‘Tory’ Party colleagues, that he had won an unprecedented deal on major EU reforms. Since then, senior Tory figures including the Mayor of London Boris Johnson, have said they will support the campaign for the UK to leave. While on the, prominent Irish business man Michael O’Leary of Ryanair fame has speedily signed up to the ‘remain’ side.
There are some people claiming a bit of an upside for Ireland if the UK leaves in that we might have one less competitor within the EU for Foreign Direct Investment. However, truth is that given the historical ties, the potential impact on Ireland would be enormous. Should the UK vote to leave the EU, the second biggest impact would be felt here. There are many links and connections between our two countries. We share a border and many other things such as trade, a common travel area as well as hundreds of thousands of people who were born on one island and now live on the other.
The numbers on the relationship between Ireland and the UK tell their own story:
- €1bn of goods and services are traded every week between the UK and Ireland
- The UK is Ireland’s largest export market
- Ireland is the UK’s fifth largest export market
- An estimated 400,000 people are employed in Ireland as a result of UK exporting activity
- There are over 50,000 Irish Directors of UK companies
- There are more than 50 Irish companies listed on the London Stock Exchange
- An estimated 230,000 British people live in Ireland
- Approximately 500,000 Irish born citizens live in the UK
- Ireland imports 89% of our oil and 93% of our gas from the UK
If the UK votes to leave, the truth is that nobody really knows how the two governments in Dublin and London would set about re-organising the trade and other parts of our relationship. Would we start with trade or travel or work or studying? What about tariffs on mobile calls which have been flagged as a big issue along the border?
European Movement Ireland commissioned an independent Red C opinion poll in 2015 which found that more than 4 out of every 5 Irish people support our on-going EU membership, with 84% of adults here believing that Ireland has, on balance, benefited from membership of the EU. 77% of us wish to remain in the EU, even if the UK leaves, an increase of 10% when a similar poll was done in 2013. So there is a widespread recognition that overall the EU is a good place for both Ireland and the UK. A so-called ‘Brexit’ would quite simply be bad for the EU, bad for the UK and bad for Ireland. It is not in anyone’s interest that a major player like the UK would be outside the EU tent.
The various opinion polls in the UK show that this may yet be a tight result. So, the next few weeks will no doubt see a very comprehensive debate in the UK and I hope there is a good discussion here in Ireland too. It is really important that the 400,000 Irish people who have the right to vote in the UK take an active part in the debate ahead of voting on 23 June. European Movement Ireland is strongly of the view that an EU without the UK would be a far poorer one and that the impact on Ireland would be huge. We hope that the interests and voices of ordinary British and Irish people are at the forefront of this crucial debate in the weeks ahead. We will be playing our part with a series of public events about the referendum, including one at UCC in April.
This blog post is an edited version of our Executive Director Noelle O Connell’s monthly column in the Cork Evening Echo.