Northern Ireland Rejects Leaving Europe…But Still Will Be Leaving

Northern Ireland Europe

THE majority of people in Northern Ireland have voted to remain in the European Union (EU), in contrast with the rest of the United Kingdom in the June 23 referendum.

The margin was more than 100,000 voting to remain of the 62% turn-out was enough for Northern Ireland’s electorate in deciding to remain – now they will live with consequences of the UK leaving the EU, good or ill.

Within moments of the declaration in the UK the republican party, Sinn Féin, called for a border poll to decide whether Northern Ireland should leave the UK and join the Republic of Ireland.

While that is unlikely to happen at any time in the near future, it points to a degree of political uncertainty across this part of the UK.

Of the 18 electoral areas in NI 11 had a majority declaring to remain in the EU and seven voted to leave. In North Belfast, the voters were virtually divided 50-50, with remain just nudging ahead by only 0.4%.

Across Belfast only the east of the city voted to leave.

First Minister, Arlene Foster said on learning of the result those that voted had: “backed hope, they backed aspiration”, while Deputy First Minister said there was a “democratic imperative” for a poll on the border.

Others have been focussing on the future implications.

As a net importer, the immediate plummet in the value of the pound, could have a dramatic effect on the economy unless the currency stabilises soon.

As the United Kingdom Government prepares for the negotiations to exit the European Union when a new Conservative leader is in place, hundreds of projects funded by the EU face a period of uncertainty in coming months.

With the overall vote in the UK showing 52% voting to leave and 48% to remain Northern Ireland’s electorate will cast a wary eye on the decisions taken by the Bank of England and the Treasury.

Northern Ireland is a net beneficiary of UK’s distribution of monies, called the Block Grant, and benefits from a range of EU funds.

The impact may well hit in unexpected areas. The UK national paper, The Independent, warned that the filming of the HBO hit series, Game of Thrones, in Northern Ireland could be at risk. EU film funding contributed to the programme’s overall funds.

Prominent economists in NI have already warned about a slow down in corporate investment. Agriculture and manufacturing are considerably more important to the overall economy of the province, and concern is that they will be harder hit, while there is uncertainty over future foreign investment.

The leave campaigners, however, claim that the independence of leaving the EU will have, on balance, a positive effect.

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As the Government considers which way forward, negotiations are expected to last at least two years before the UK triggers Article 50 of the EU treaty, which is the constitutional instrument allowing departure.

As Scotland has also voted by a majority to remain in the EU there has been an immediate call by the Scottish National Party leader for another referendum for independence this will have both unionist and nationalist party leaders in Northern Ireland hoping for a period of political calm as the Assembly sits again on Monday, 28th June.

But crossing fingers and hoping will not be enough, and while the country is the smallest in the UK, creativity in needed in handling the future, no matter what trade deals are done over the next couple of years.

And, as the only part of the UK with a land border with another EU state – the Republic of Ireland – there are also concerns over the future status of trade across that border. Political parties in the Republic have been calling for calm, with the leader of Fianna Fail, Michaél Martin saying there was a need to “minimise damage”.

In the meantime, coming years will be one of uncertainty for Northern Ireland’s 1.8m people.

About the Author

Jonathan Traynor
Northern Ireland journalist. Rock & metal enthusiast and owner of belfastmetalheadsreunited.blogspot.com.