Ed Miliband says UK quitting EU would be ‘particularly’ bad for Northern Ireland

Says Labour if elected ‘won’t have lots of money to spend, we face difficult times’

The UK exiting the European Union would be bad for Britain but "particularly bad" for Northern Ireland, the British Labour leader Ed Miliband has told a Belfast conference on poverty and deprivation in Northern Ireland.

While the British prime minister has promised an in-out European Union referendum should the Conservative Party be returned to power after the May British general election Mr Miliband emphasised his party's support for remaining in Europe.

He said leaving the EU “will be bad for the whole of Britain but particularly bad for the whole of Northern Ireland” because of the border with the Republic.

Mr Miliband was speaking at Ulster University in Belfast on Thursday where he addressed the poverty conference organised by the Heenan-Anderson commission. The commission was established by the Labour party last September to report on deprivation in the North. It is chaired by Professor Deirdre Heenan, Ulster University pro-vice chancellor, and Colin Anderson, a Belfast-based advertising executive.

Mr Miliband, while pledging to tackle poverty and inequality in Northern Ireland, also made it clear that were Labour elected to power in May that there would be no great loosening of the Treasury purse strings.

“We won’t have lots of money to spend, we face difficult times,” he told the conference which was attended by politicians, academics, students and people involved in various groups tackling poverty.

He said the challenge for the next British government to improve the economy and to ensure that people had “decent jobs and decent wages”.

“It should be about a race to the top with higher skills and higher wages rather than a race to the bottom with lower skills and lower wages,” said Mr Miliband.

Were Labour elected his focus would be on tackling inequality “because it is the core of my involvement in politics”, he added. Mr Miliband said it was vital to develop the Northern economy because Northern Ireland needed “economic progress to keep the peace process on track”.

The Labour leader said that three key planks of a Labour government would be to create better jobs so that more taxes could be raised; to ensure a fairer tax system; and to adopt a “common sense” approach to a reduction in spending.

On Thursday afternoon Mr Miliband is meeting First Minister Peter Robinson and Deputy First Minister Martin McGuinness at Stormont Castle.

Gerry Moriarty

Gerry Moriarty

Gerry Moriarty is the former Northern editor of The Irish Times