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Dublin: 12 °C Sunday 15 September, 2019
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The Debate Room: Should Britain leave the EU? An Irish perspective

As the referendum on Brexit approaches, we ask two people living in England for their views

Caitriona O'Neill and William Gallagher

TO BREXIT OR not to Brexit?

That is the big question of the week. On Thursday,referendum on whether the UK should leave the European Union will be held across the water. 

The result will bring serious repercussions across Britain, Ireland and the EU.

Is it a good or bad idea? We asked two commentators – on opposite sides of the debate – to give their views on a number of issues:

Nick Beard, PhD in law and gender studies

Why the UK should vote remain 

Nick Beard

AS THE LARGEST group of non-British voters, Irish emigrants are likely to have an effect in determining whether Britain remains part of the EU or votes to leave. For obvious reasons, there is a certain whiff of hypocrisy against any migrant arguing for Brexit.

Free Movement

A large percentage of my 2009 graduating class left Dublin for the UK with young professionals and many college-educated Irish unable to find jobs during the recession. They have benefitted from easy access to cities such as London, Manchester and Glasgow.

Of course, free movement hasn’t just benefited those from Ireland. The EU has meant that I’ve been able to meet Greek artists, Italian nurses, Romanian computer programmers and Spanish engineers. London can often feel like a unique cultural blend of talented people from all over Europe, and the world.

While certainly some of these migrants would still choose to apply for visas to move to London, plenty of others would likely find it just as easy to move to Paris or Berlin.

While migration is often blamed for scarce resources such as school places and NHS spaces, the reality is that outside of the Irish, the largest migrant group in the UK, EU migrants are less than 5% of the British population and disproportionately contribute to the British economy.

Those concerned with pressures on the NHS should be far more worried about the effects of Jeremy Hunt and the Tories, or the difficulties of replacing the massive number of EU migrants working within the NHS, than the mythical EU patients overrunning A&E.

Northern Ireland

While it is unlikely that a Brexit would have an effect on the residency rights and travel opportunities of Irish citizens, it is certainly concerning to hear David Cameron argue, as he did in this week’s Prime Minister’s Questions, that if Britain left the EU, there would need to be either new border controls between Northern Ireland and the Republic or some form of border checks when travelling between Northern Ireland and Britain.

Abortion

As a volunteer for the Abortion Support Network, I am particularly concerned that this will affect women travelling for abortion services. While the majority of women who travel from Ireland are unlikely to suffer any ill effects besides price of airfare, migrant women or women without the resources to hold a passport could greatly struggle to travel on short notice.

It is concerning to think that travelling and residency in the UK could become a socioeconomic issue – allowing those with money and resources to easily move to the UK while young college graduates like myself and my friends struggle. It would be far from the Britain I am proud to currently consider my home.

Source: Stefan Rousseau

Democracy

In the recent weeks, likely distancing themselves from Nigel Farage’s attempted to copy Nazi propaganda, the Conservative Brexiters have attempted to use talking points regarding sovereignty.  “Leave and take control,” says Michael Gove repeatedly on Question Time.

It is, of course, deeply ironic that a campaign which includes members of the unelected House of Lords can argue for a worry about democracy – a campaign which allowed for an election of Britain’s upper house and head of state would increase British democracy far more directly than opposing the European Parliament (directly elected) and the Council of Ministers (elected by their respective member states).

Funding

There’s also a financial argument, that the funds put into the EU would be better off distributed by the British government. Ignoring the likelihood that Boris Johnson and Nigel Farage would begin funding services they have slowly allowed to haemorrhage, Irish voters know better than most the benefit of EU funds for culture and infrastructure.

Regions like Cornwall and areas like the arts and science rely on EU funding to fill the gaps left by the current government. Projects such as developing sustainable energy in Cornwall may not make particularly sexy headlines, but these quiet works do make environmental and financial impacts.

Irish voters in Britain understand better than most British the benefits of EU funding, protection of rural communities, and freedom of movement – all the more reason to support a Remain vote on 23 of June.

Rory Fitzgerald, Irish journalist and lawyer living in England

Why the UK should vote leave

IN IRELAND, THERE was much talk about the 1916 rising this year. Here in the UK, the debate has been whether the UK should leave the EU. The same fundamental issues underpin both debates: independence, sovereignty and the right of a people to govern itself democratically.

Democracy

I will be voting to leave the EU because my paramount hope is that my children will grow up in a true, functioning democracy.

I love Europe; my English wife is half-Italian, and we have family and friends across the continent. I hope Brexit will trigger referenda elsewhere, giving our European friends a say about the increasingly-centralised EU hegemony rising amongst us. Brexit will set back the EU’s undemocratic drive towards becoming a federal pan-European superstate. If an independent UK prospers, others will follow.

Economy
The UK, outside the Euro, already prospers – sometimes creating more jobs than the rest of the EU combined. Norway, Switzerland, Canada and Australia also thrive outside the EU.

Yet Project Fear promises world war three and economic devastation. Irish voters have even been threatened with an Iron Curtain in Fermanagh – despite the UK parliament committee which says its “priority” would be “an arrangement that maintains a soft land border”.

Such scaremongering can’t hide the fact that the EU’s core project – the euro – is a disaster. The German-led political control required to sustain it has led to deep resentment and the disturbing rise of far-right politics.

Euro membership took away Ireland’s ability to control interest rates, which poured petrol on the housing boom and exacerbated the 2008 bust. Ireland ended up a vassal state of the troika, with billions in private bank debt and unpopular diktats foisted upon it.

Ireland’s budget was even found being passed around the Bundestag before our TDs saw it. When Ireland does not vote as directed in referenda, we’re told, “vote again”.

Source: PA Wire/Press Association Images

Contempt for ordinary people

We have seen the elected leaders of Italy and Greece deposed. When the French and Dutch people rejected the EU Constitution, it was dressed up as the Lisbon Treaty and implemented anyway, even after the Irish rejected that too.

The EU’s contempt for democracy is astonishing. When I worked in Brussels as a lawyer, I arrived a starry-eyed, pro-EU 20-something but soon witnessed the contempt for democracy and ordinary people held by many in EU circles.

Migrants
Key decisions are now frequently taken outside the EU institutions, largely by Germany. Last year, Angela Merkel threw open Europe’s doors to over a million un-vetted migrants. I admire Germany’s humanitarian motives, but governments need to be accountable.

In the EU, people in Poland or France – who cannot remove Angela Merkel from office – must live with her decisions. Germany threatened its neighbours into taking the migrants it had invited. Sympathy for genuine refugees plummeted. The lack of vetting also meant that terrorists who committed the massacres in Paris last autumn used these uncontrolled migrations to enter Europe. This is how democratic accountability breaks down.

Elite
The EU is an elite project that railroads ordinary people towards its stifling, homogenised utopia. It is the working class who suffer most. The fiscal straitjacket of the euro has inflicted mass unemployment to southern Europe. Is Irish sympathy with the underdogs, or Goldman Sachs and Jean Claude Juncker?

Real economic growth is in Asia, Africa and the Americas. Leaving the stagnant EU and going global could benefit the UK – and therefore Ireland. Yet even if the most fearful economists are right, the UK and Ireland will still be rich countries post-Brexit, just perhaps slightly less so. Being slightly less rich seems a like pathetically small price to pay for democracy, when so many laid down their lives for it in the past century.

Democracy is new to much of Europe. As an East German, Ms Merkel herself only tasted democracy for the first time in 1990. Most EU countries have been dictatorships within living memory; Spain and Portugal were until 1982. Only Britain, Ireland, France, Sweden and a few other nations have a long history of democracy and a visceral urge to defend it.

My hope is that a more democratic Europe of peaceful, prosperous, freely trading independent nation states will emerge. Voting leave seems the best way to achieve that ideal.

Read: Calling it: The British papers have come out on Brexit, and they’re pretty divided

Read: What will happen to the border if there’s a Brexit?

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About the author:

Caitriona O'Neill and William Gallagher

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