Either way, our EU vote will not come without consequence

20 June 2016 - by Connor Daly

Connor Daly takes a look at the decision to be made by voters ahead of the EU Referendum, and the impact it will have in either way on Northern Ireland.

On Thursday voters will be asked one simple question which will have a colossal impact upon the politics, the laws, economy and, perhaps more broadly, the general outlook of the UK for many years to come: whether Britain should remain a member of the European Union, or leave.

Amidst the drama across the water, Northern Ireland has been termed a “special case” given the fact it shares the UK’s only land border with the EU, considering its unique troubled past, ongoing peace process and still fragile economy.

From everyday Assembly business, to cross-border co-operation and projects like the Peace Bridge in Derry/Londonderry, engagement with the European Union in Northern Ireland is easy to pin-point.

Ex-British Prime Ministers John Major and Tony Blair both recently warned of dire consequences a vote to leave the EU could have on politics here. On his own trip to the region, Chancellor George Osborne predicted an economic earthquake and harder border between Northern Ireland and the Irish Republic post-Brexit.

It is not often that all three, including Sinn Féin deputy First Minister Martin McGuinness, sing from the same hymn sheet.

On the other hand, Secretary of State for Northern Ireland Theresa Villiers, First Minister Arlene Foster her DUP MPs Nigel Dodds and Sammy Wilson have been vocal in their advice to Northern Ireland voters to grasp Britain’s opportunity to “take back control”. Over the weekend their calls were echoed by Ulster Unionist grandees Lord Trimble and Lord Kilclooney.

Indeed, the emotional question of should we stay or go has seen past rivals become friends and friends become rivals.

Adding to the questions already posed by their counterparts in England, Scotland and Wales surrounding sovereignty and trade, immigration and financial costs associated with EU membership, on arrangements surrounding the Irish border, employment prospects and support for local farmers there seems plenty to play for all round.

The UK’s relationship with the EU has often been problematic, but how have we come to the brink of leaving altogether?

It was Prime Minister David Cameron who announced the date of the referendum back in February, where after two-days of intense negotiations with other EU leaders in Brussels he claimed Britain had secured “special status” within the EU.

Cameron’s deal claimed four reforms: an "emergency brake" on migrants' in-work benefits; a change to child benefits for children born of EU migrants; assurance Britain will not be forced into political integration; and "an emergency safeguard" to protect the City of London, prevent UK firms being forced to relocate into Europe and from facing "discrimination" outside the Eurozone.

For many, even in Cameron’s own cabinet, special status is not enough. Within parties and across the right and left of the political spectrum opinion is divided; pollsters seem united only in their assumption that Thursday’s result is too close to call. Either way, the declaration will not be without consequences.