UK leaving EU would be ‘leap over the cliff into the unknown’

Charlie Flanagan says Government is committed to working for acceptable deal

Minister for Foreign Affairs Charlie Flanagan said the Government is determined to work for a deal which helped keep the UK in the EU. Photograph: Niall Carson/PA

Minister for Foreign Affairs Charlie Flanagan said the Government is determined to work for a deal which helped keep the UK in the EU. Photograph: Niall Carson/PA

 

The Minister for Foreign Affairs Charlie Flanagan has warned of the great “uncertainty” that would be created by Britain exiting Europe.

He also said in Belfast today that the Government is committed to work for a deal that would keep Britain in the the European Union.

Mr Flanagan when speaking at a seminar at Queen’s University in Belfast this afternoon on “what Brexit means for Northern Ireland” said the UK exiting Europe “would be a leap over the cliff into the unknown”.

Also speaking at the seminar was the more Eurosceptic DUP Minister Arlene Foster, who is viewed as likely to succeed Peter Robinson as the North’s First Minister shortly.

Ms Foster said she was “not afraid of an out vote” and she was not impressed by some “of the more Europhile scare stories” about Brexit, adding that some had wrongly predicted “disaster” for Britain by not joining the euro.

“By no means is it impossible that the United Kingdom would thrive outside Europe,” she added.

Ms Foster did not say how she would vote in the referendum but indicated in the current circumstances she would vote no. She insisted that “meaningful change” was required to keep Britain in Europe.

She called for “significant change”, including Britain contributing less to the EU and having “more powers back from Brussels”.

Ms Foster conceded that there was some business concern in Northern Ireland about Brexit. In answer to one question from the floor, she was dismissive of exit meaning the return of British army watch towers along the Border.

At the Queen’s event which was organised in conjunction with the Irish Association and the Institute for International and European Affairs, Mr Flanagan called for extensive public engagement on the issue across Northern Ireland.

He said the implications of Brexit for the North “was increasingly on our radar screens . . . given what’s at stake for everyone”.

“No matter how much planning and mitigating and negotiating . . . we simply don’t yet know just how much it might mean for the Border, for North-South cooperation and for the all-island economy,” he added. “From an Irish and island-of-Ireland perspective, I just see very little to be gained by sailing into such uncharted waters.”

Mr Flanagan said Dublin was determined to work for a deal which helped keep the UK in the EU.

“We are in the business of solutions, including through being committed to supporting sensible British reform EU proposals,” he said. “We are firmly behind the UK’s initiative, for example, to strengthen the union’s competitiveness through more sensible regulation and a reduction in red tape.”

Mr Flanagan who met British foreign secretary Philip Hammond in London earlier this week to discuss the UK’s membership of the EU concentrated on the “uncertainty” that a UK exit would bring for Northern Ireland.

He also highlighted the “valuable financial supports” the EU has provided over more than 40 years, as well as the how the EU provided a “supportive context for peace and reconciliation”.

“People deserve to be able to make their decision on the clearest possible understanding of all the facts. As we know from our own EU referendums, active civil society and political engagement is vital to ensure maximum voter participation,” said Mr Flanagan.