Thursday 16th February 2017
Arguably, one of the most defining votes of our time was the referendum on whether the UK should leave or remain a member of the EU. Many people felt very strongly about the issue, certainly more so than regional or local politics, as can be seen by the largely increased turnout for the vote.
Given the passion which people on both sides of the argument had, and the impact that withdrawing from the EU would have, not just nationally but internationally as well, it is hardly surprising that the debate is still very lively with lots of attention given to the precise mechanics of the UK’s withdrawal from the EU; the triggering of Article 50.
Firstly, let me make my own position clear. Whilst I had reservations over the issues of sovereignty appearing to slowly drip from London to Brussels, I felt that the economic argument outweighed this and that remaining a member of the EU would be in our best interests. I understand that the EU has metamorphosed into a structure greater than originally envisaged, however I believe that at its heart the EU remains, fundamentally, a vessel for increased trade and economic prosperity. For these reasons, I voted Remain on 23rd June 2016.
I thought long and hard about it and this was the conclusion I came to, however I fully appreciate that others will have looked at the facts and concluded differently to me. The fact of the matter is that, for whatever reason, 17.4 million people chose to leave, whereas 16.1 million chose to remain. Now as one of those 16.1 million voices, I would absolutely want my voice to be considered and, perhaps, influence the nature of the withdrawal from the EU, but above all else I believe in democracy and that ultimately, sovereignty lies with the people and their right to be governed by consensus. My belief in democracy demands that I have to accept, despite my personal views, that collectively we in the UK voted to leave and that, in my view, gives parliament the authority to progress to invoking Article 50.
The Northern Ireland question raises several issues, chiefly that UK and ROI have an existing agreement of a Common Travel Area between them, but this may cause issue given that Ireland would maintain the free movement of labour, services and capital with the EU. Many commentators have raised the possibility of Special EU Status for Northern Ireland, to try and “square the circle” of the migration issue. Whilst there may be some merit in pursuing this path, the view I take is that the UK and ROI originally agreed to the Common Travel Area Agreement before either country even joined the EU. The agreement is not predicated on our membership (or non-membership for that matter) of the EU and as such if membership of the EU appears to cause issue for the Common Travel Area Agreement then, I believe, the onus rests with the government of Ireland to seek special status within the EU so as to not jeopardise the agreement. So far there have only been calls for Northern Ireland to seek special status, however I would call on the Dáil Éireann to consider their own status within the EU. After all, the UK is Irelands single biggest trading partner and, with the UK’s inevitable withdrawal from the EU plus the very real possibility of France following suit after their presidential elections in April and May later this year, there will be little to no economic argument for ROI to maintain their current status anyway.