The decision on whether the United Kingdom stays within the European Union or leaves is crucial. It is not like an election to councils, Stormont or Westminster that will come again in four or five years. It will be a decision shaping the United Kingdom, including Northern Ireland, for a generation or more.
It is not a party political election, all our votes are equal, but it is still right that parties make their view known. The DUP has always been a Euro-sceptic party. We were instrumental in securing this chance for the people to have their say, but wanted to wait until the Prime Minister finalised his negotiations before taking a formal stance.
Having seen the products of those negotiations we believe that, on balance it is to the benefit of the UK as a whole, and of Northern Ireland as a region for us vote to leave the EU. There is no radical reform of the EU.
Those who want to remain within the EU perpetuate the myth that trade would cease. That ignores the reality that the UK imports far more goods from Europe than we send back. It simply wouldn’t be in the interests of a country like Germany to stop trading with us. There are far too many German cars on our roads and too many German appliances in our houses for that to make economic sense. We can, and would negotiate trade agreements with EU nations, and crucially with emerging world economies. Currently we cannot negotiate those deals with key emerging markets because the EU insists on Europe-wide deals, like TTIP.
Much has been made of how much funding Northern Ireland receives from the European Union. What is not often mentioned is that for every £1 received, local taxpayers have first contributed £1.58 to the European Union.
The case for leaving the European Union is not cutting off EU funding, but what the extra money we currently give to Europe should be spent on.
A great deal of the money which has come to Northern Ireland has been through the Common Agricultural Policy.
Many farmers rely on their Single Farm Payment, particularly during periods such as that experienced over recent years, when prices have been low. The choice however is not whether agricultural subsidies will be paid, but about whether they are decided in Europe and are subject to currency exchange fluctuations, or whether they are set in this country and paid by our national government. Those who say leaving would result in uncertainty, fail to point out that staying will also result in uncertainty as we don’t know what impact new Nations joining, such as the 70 million citizens of Turkey, for example would have.
Agriculture is subsidised in most industrialised nations and there are very few people who argue that agriculture could survive in the United Kingdom without subsidy. All those who are arguing we should leave the European Union accept this argument, but again those arguing to remain in the EU prefer the myth that subsidies would cease entirely.
Whether it is in the arguments put forward on trade deals or agricultural funding it should be no surprise that the argument for remaining within the EU is to tell us that no alternative is available. An admission that other, better options are available undermines the central plank of their campaign. It’s a clear case of: “Well they would say that wouldn’t they.”
The DUP has negotiated the best deal from Westminster on issues such as welfare reform and we would continue to do this across other areas, including agriculture. Should the UK leave the United Kingdom then HM Treasury would find the extra money we pay to the European Union as a net contributor within its coffers. The Barnett formula means the Northern Ireland budget would increase as a consequence. Local politicians would be able to put more money into the issues we prioritise here in Northern Ireland.
None of these arguments even touch on the basics of national sovereignty and whether it is right that decisions are taken in Brussels by a “government” which is neither elected by, nor accountable to anyone here.
People should judge all of the facts in this debate and make their judgement, having weighed that evidence. It is no coincidence however that the majority of those expounding the values of the European Union were opposed to allowing the public to have a say in this referendum in the first place.