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Brexit: Enterprise Minister’s Vote

Oral Answers to Questions — Enterprise, Trade and Investment – in the Northern Ireland Assembly at 2:30 pm on 1st December 2015.

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Photo of Alban Maginness Alban Maginness Social Democratic and Labour Party 2:30 pm, 1st December 2015

T3. Mr A Maginness asked the Minister of Enterprise, Trade and Investment, given the prospect of a referendum on the UK’s membership of the European Union, if such a referendum took place tomorrow, what way would he, as Minister for Enterprise, Trade and Investment, vote. (AQT 3223/11-16)

Photo of Jonathan Bell Jonathan Bell DUP

The reality is that there will not be a referendum tomorrow, and there is not likely to be a referendum until, I understand, 2017. So, what this Minister for Enterprise has done is to commission research from Oxford Economics, because I want our people to have the best and most informed knowledge when they make these critical decisions. I have commissioned research not only on a potential Brexit but also on taking a laissez-faire approach, keeping it as it is, and what that would mean and what it would cost. I have also asked Oxford Economics and others to look at some of the other measures out there. Norway, I understand, has its own arrangements. The Swiss have a different relationship. Turkey has a customs relationship. So, the point has to be this: let us get the best, informed analysis to make our decision when the referendum comes.

Photo of Alban Maginness Alban Maginness Social Democratic and Labour Party

I thank the Minister for his answer. Quite clearly, he did not give me a definitive yes or no. His answer was about trying to inform the electorate of the issues, and I welcome that. I inform him that I would vote yes. Further to that, does he foresee, at any stage, any merit in Northern Ireland being outside the European Union?

Photo of Jonathan Bell Jonathan Bell DUP

It is not my place to advise the Member, but if I may be so bold as to say that you should not say how you will answer the question until you know what the question actually is.

Northern Ireland has been a net beneficiary when it comes to moneys received from the EU. We do not know the referendum question, so I think that, in advance of knowing it, we have to be careful when trying to give answers. My position, which he knows, and which was so ably set out by our MEP Diane Dodds, is that I believe that the European Union needs to be renegotiated. We will then look at what comes out of that renegotiation to see what is in the best interests of Northern Ireland. Until we have had that renegotiation and that evidence, I do not think that you can start to make decisions, because decisions made without evidence and knowledge are usually pretty poor decisions. There will be big outcomes, whatever decision we make. That is why the best thing for us all to do, in advance of hearing the question, is to look at the advantages and disadvantages of a complete Brexit and at the other opportunities so that the people of Northern Ireland can be best informed. I believe that, in its current form, the European Union needs to be renegotiated.