Ireland would not benefit if Britain were to leave the EU following a referendum to be held in 2017, according to Vince Cable, British secretary of state for business, innovation and skills.
“It would be very wrong to think Ireland would benefit, in fact it would be the exact opposite. It would create great uncertainty about the relationship between the UK and Ireland, which currently rests on the assumption of a single market.
“It would create huge problems for North-South relations, which have got progressively better. The last thing we need is to disrupt that,” he said.
Mr Cable was in Dublin yesterday to speak at an event organised by the British-Irish Chamber of Commerce. His party, the Liberal Democrats, have a much more pro-EU position than coalition partner, the Conservatives. Tensions have mounted between the pair following prime minister David Cameron’s speech on Wednesday pledging an ‘in or out’ EU referendum.
Mr Cable said he didn’t agree with the timing of the referendum because it was not possible at this stage to see how the EU would unfold.
The last time there was a plebiscite was in 1975 when Britain was in the throes of a post-imperialist slump. However, the context has changed significantly in the intervening period, he said.
Closer integration in the eurozone, particularly towards a political union, was deeply unpopular in Britain. Moreover, the UK has many legitimate concerns, including the Common Agriculture Policy; the amount of red tape involved in doing business and budget contributions, he added.
Mr Cable argued that if the British government framed its renegotiations in terms of advancing reforms, then there is the potential for progress with other EU member states. “But if it is presented as a set of British demands, then it is going to be much more difficult.”
However, it was “virtually certain” that Britain would remain in the EU. The referendum on Scottish independence in 2014 will hammer home to the electorate the benefits of staying in a union, and these would spill over to the subsequent referendum.
He praised the Irish Government for the level of fiscal discipline and social cohesion it has maintained since the economy imploded. There were areas of massive potential benefit to both countries in the future, particularly in agribusiness; developing a common energy policy and North-South relations.
“The North has a dominant public sector. We have to develop the private sector and the best way of doing that is through trade with the South. That will become more difficult if Britain is not in the EU,” he said.
© Irish Examiner Ltd. All rights reserved