In this opinion piece entitled "Brexit: Implications for Northern Ireland", Dr McGowan makes a number of very dubious claims which it is impossible to believe a senior lecturer in politics would make out of ignorance.
Let's examine his "salient points":
- Border Controls: In theory ‘Brexit’ means the creation of a physical international border between Northern Ireland and the Republic of Ireland (i.e. the imposition of passport checks and customs posts) that will impact on trade and tourism. Is this a repartition?
As a senior lecturer in politics in Northern Ireland, Dr McGowan must surely know that the Common Travel Area that abolished border controls between the UK and the Republic of Ireland dates back to 1923, long before the EU existed. This bilateral agreement has nothing to do with the EU. The agreement was reaffirmed as recently as 2011 by both the British and Irish governments and is so important to the Republic of Ireland that they turned down membership of the Schengen area to keep the Common Travel Area with the UK.
- Political Dimension: The ‘Brexit’ issue will be highly politically sensitive for the political parties which are tied into the efforts at building an agreed post-conflict society. Indeed, Brexit would help reinforce the division of the island? The 1998 Belfast Agreement itself was premised on both UK and Irish membership of the European Union. How far will ‘Brexit’ impact on the North-South dimension of relations between Stormont and Dublin?
The 1998 Belfast Agreement mentions the EU only twice: once to give the British-Irish Council that it created the responsibility to consider the EU dimension of relevant matters and another in a declaration of friendship between the two nations, describing us as "friendly neighbours and as partners in the European Union". There is nothing in the Belfast Agreement that even vaguely suggests that being a member of the EU is required or even preferable for the agreement to work.
- Business and Employment: Although the UK provides a highly important internal market for Northern Irish goods, European markets also matter. A Brexit might mean the UK no longer has access to the single market and in the Northern Ireland context this is hugely important as much of region’s economy as some 55% of manufacturing goes to the EU and most of this to the Irish Republic. Does a ‘Brexit’ impact on competitive advantage in the UK? Given that Northern Ireland is a border economy, anything that interrupts and hinders the free flow of goods and labour impacts negatively on the Northern Irish economy. It has been estimated in a recent report for the NI Assembly’s Enterprise Committee that the Northern Ireland economy would lose some €1 billion per annum following a Brexit and face a 3% decline in GDP. Is this sustainable?
There is no suggestion that the UK wouldn't have access to the single market after leaving the EU. The EU's Lisbon Treaty requires the EU to have friendly relations with neighbours that encourage prosperity. The UK is the EU's largest single market - they sell more to us than they sell to anyone else in the world. In contrast, the EU is a declining market for the UK responsible for a dwindling percentage of the UK's export market. The report claiming that the Northern Irish economy could decline by 3% was written by an Open University professor by the name of Dr Leslie Budd but he didn't come up with the 3% figure, it was Deutsche Bank which is openly campaigning against the UK leaving the EU.
- Farming: Currently the operation of the EU’s Common Agricultural Policy accounts for some 82% of farm income across Northern Ireland. The figure of aid for the period 2014-20 is estimated at some €3billion. Is it to be expected that the UK Treasury would replace these funds with UK monies following Brexit? If it doesn’t what would happen to the farming and related agri-food sectors?
There is nothing to suggest that the British government wouldn't support farmers when we leave the EU. In fact, with more money available to support vital industries such as agriculture when we're not handing over £55m a day to the EU there is scope to provide more support to farmers. At the moment the EU controls agriculture in the UK in its entirety. The Ministry of Agriculture, Food & Rural Affairs is nothing more than an enforcer of EU directives and collector of fines. Northern Irish farmers - like those elsewhere in the UK - are required to follow a common set of rules applied across the EU that cannot possibly address the realities of farming on the north east coast of Northern Ireland at the same time as those in the olive groves of Italy. Farmers have nothing to fear from leaving the EU and taking back control of the agriculture industry.
- Structural Funds and Peace Support: Northern Ireland has benefitted considerably from structural funds and peace monies. Indeed, some €2.4 billion was received from the EU between 2007 and 2013 with a broadly similar amount being available between 2014 and 2020. This would stop following a ‘Brexit’. What would be the implications for Northern Ireland as it develops as a post-conflict society?
EU structural funds would stop when we leave the EU but that funding is paid for out of the money we pay in and it's a tiny percentage of the obscene amount of money we pay to be a member of this political project. It costs every man, woman and child more than £1,200 per year for us to be in the EU. With a population of 1.8m, that means the cost of being in the EU to Northern Ireland is £2.16bn per year. If it costs almost as much to be in the EU for one year as the EU gives back to Northern Ireland in 6 years, that's hardly value for money.
- Universities, Research and Student Mobility: Is there a danger that world class research might suffer outside the EU? It is generally not known how much the EU boosts UK science and innovation in terms of the freedom of movement for talent and gifted European scientists, let alone access to considerable financial support through initiatives such as Horizon 2020. Brexit could also bring the Erasmus student exchanges to an end and could limit the opportunities for NI students studying in other parts of the EU.
The Erasmus student exchange programme operates in 33 countries. There are only 28 members of the EU. Clearly being in the EU is not a requirement to be part of this programme. Nor is there any reason to believe that the EU would suddenly decide to impose visa restrictions on the UK once we leave or vice versa. The UK ranks joint first in the world with Germany for the number of countries that passport holders can travel to without a visa. UK passport holders can travel to 173 countries without a visa currently, the idea that the British government would seek to reverse that trend is nonsense.
- Constitutional Futures: Would/should any decision by the UK government following a UK vote for a ‘Brexit’ take into account the voting preferences of majorities in all four constituent parts of the UK. If not, Scotland’s current preference to stay in the EU might trigger a second referendum on Scottish independence. Should Northern Ireland insist that its vote is respected? What should the response be from Northern Ireland if it returns a majority different to that of the UK as a whole?
There is no reason why a so-called double majority should be required for the EU referendum any more than it is for a general election. If this principle was applied to all votes then we would never again see a functioning British government as no party can or will ever get a majority in all four member states of the UK. If it isn't applied to all votes then what makes this one different to all the others?
There was a time when academics were seekers of truth and sought a career drumming that truth into the heads of others. Nowadays it seems that they are increasingly turning to education as a means to indoctrinate generations of impressionable youngsters with their political views, no matter how dishonest they have to be in the process. Dr McGowan would appear to be a case in point.