Chamber News


Alex Salmond Speech

“The European Union is the best example in the history of the world of conflict resolution and it is the duty of everyone, particularly those who live in areas of conflict, to study how it was done and to apply its principles to their own conflict resolution.”

These fine words are not mine. They are from the remarkable son of this great City, John Hume. Speaking in 1998 when he accepted his Nobel Peace Prize in Oslo following the referendum on the Good Friday Agreement. Hume respected, appreciated and understood all the benefits that the European Union could bring, not only to Ireland but to all of us across these Islands.

In that single speech, Hume captured the heart of the true value of the European Union. That is, how it is invaluable. Critical to securing stability, preventing and healing conflicts across this continent. We only have to look across the globe and pause to appreciate that we have peaceful neighbors and that the European Union has been instrumental in that  achievement.

Northern Ireland has taught us that the fundamental principle of the European Union- that when independent nations work together for a shared cause, for a common good- it works. 

The Northern Ireland Act 1998 was based on and implemented the Good Friday Agreement, which was itself underpinned by a binding international treaty between the UK and Ireland. The preamble to that treaty states;

“Wishing to develop still further the unique relationship between their peoples and the close co-operation between their countries as friendly neighbours and as partners in the European Union.”

Now I did not accept your kind invitation today to issue scare stories for children or apocalyptic warnings of impending doom. I leave that to others on both sides of this referendum campaign. As it happens I think that this extraordinary negativity is exactly the wrong way to conduct this debate. The heart of this case is a positive account of the substantial argument that Europe has been and is a good thing for Northern Ireland.

Therefore, I would not argue that the survival of the Good Friday Agreement depends on EU membership or even less would I suggest that peace would end with Brexit. However, it is true that leaving the EU would have complex and particular constitutional implications in respect of Northern Ireland.

Membership of the EU and a commitment to European values, such as those of enshrined in the European Convention on Human Rights were a vital part of the foundations of the Peace Process. Human rights and anti-discrimination law played a key transformative role for the new system of devolution here. Before any politician advocates leaving either the European Union or indeed the separate Strasbourg Convention they should at the very least have thought these things through. There is little sign that they have, no more than they have considered that the European Convention is part of the foundation Statute of the reconvened Scottish Parliament.

The freedom to live, study, work, trade or travel across the EU’s 28 member states are key benefits of EU membership. Nowhere is that freedom to trade felt more acutely than here in Ireland, where the land border poses no restrictions on citizens North or South. Crucial to the future of business and trade in the UK is the ability to continue to have those freedoms. In Northern Ireland we know that the Republic is its biggest external trading partner, exporting £2.1billion of goods and services south of the border in 2015.

I do not share the view that Brexit inevitably results in the return of a “hard border” between Northern Ireland and the South. The Common Travel Area has been kicking around since 1923 and already contains in the Channel Islands and the Isle of Man territories which are not in the European Union. As long as the Republic stays out of Schengen then it should be possible to keep the travel area. Of course there still would be questions to answer on tariffs on goods unless, of course, the Brexiteers change tack and support membership of the European Economic Area like Norway. As I shall note later, however, they seem disinclined to do that at least as far as it is possible to make sense out of the variety of competing notions that they are proposing.

The immediate economic threat to Northern Ireland from Brexit is far more practical and far less capable of resolution. For many years Northern Ireland politicians across the parties have been campaigning to secure a comparable corporate tax regime with the South, recognising that the differential made competition difficult. Believe me competing for inward investment, if the Republic had guaranteed access to the European marketplace and Northern Ireland did not, would be much more difficult.

Northern Ireland and Scotland are the closest of neighbours, economically and culturally. You are the blood of our blood and the bone of our bone. We also have key relationships with the south.

The Republic is the second largest market for Scottish food, while it has been estimated that Irish investment in Scotland is responsible for over 5,000 jobs and turnover of nearly 3 billion Euros. Just this week the Irish Business Network Scotland was launched in support of the unprecedented levels of trade between the countries.

EU funding has also enabled our nations to come together to achieve a common purpose. The INTERREG Funded Access 6 programme has encouraged cross border collaboration and has fostered relationships in the food and drink sector. The businesses involved have experienced over 25 million Euros’ worth of sales growth and 87% of export growth.

The Single Market has also helped facilitate better access to international markets for enterprises located in Scotland and Ireland by being part of a larger trading bloc. A leave vote would jeopardise all of this. Again the damage could be minimised by seeking membership of the European Economic Area like Norway but that would involve still accepting the terms of membership of the single market, including free movement of people, which cuts against grain of Brexiteerism. Therefore out means out and that probably means out for much trade and many jobs .

EU funding programmes have also benefited Scotland’s economy. Between 2007 and 2013, European Structural Funds supported 30,000 new jobs and improved skills for 135,000 people. Our farmers benefit from EU funding – some 3.5 billion Euros have been awarded to Scottish farmers under the Common Agricultural Policy for the period between 2014 and 2020 which will contribute to keeping farming in remote and rural areas in Scotland sustainable. Here in Derry, we only have to glance at the beautiful Peace Bridge, symbolising not only the Peace in this region but the commitment of the European Union to supporting the continued  Peace Process. 

In Scotland we too have gained from the social, economic and cultural benefits of European Union membership. The EU is the top destination for Scottish exports, receiving almost half of Scotland’s International exports, worth around £11.6 billion in 2014. 72% of investors cite access to the internal market as important when deciding where to invest and a staggering 300,000 plus Scottish jobs were estimated to be associated with exports to the EU in 2011 by the Centre for Economics and Business Research.

EU companies have added nearly £16 billion of inward investment to Scotland and the EU has been at the forefront of developing our digital economy. For the UK this has resulted in 43% of digital exports going directly to the EU.

It has helped us to develop SMEs by playing a key role in shaping policies that support them to grow through regulation simplification, supporting entrepreneurship and innovation, as well as allowing access to finance and structural support. We hear from Brexiteers that it is only big companies who are concerned about market access to Europe. What a nonsense. For every large exporter there are dozens and sometimes hundreds of small company suppliers. They care and they would be damaged.

Fundamentally, we know that the EU provides much more than easier trade links for businesses. The social protections the EU has established, the right not to be discriminated against on the basis of age, gender, religion, disability, sexual orientation, race or ethnicity and key rights for workers on restrictions to working hours, maternity and paternity leave entitlement; the right to paid holidays, are comprehensive. In the face of the UK Government’s assault on trade unions, we have to ask ourselves as workers, employers and as citizens, do we really want to give up the institutions that provide these protections? The value of workplace rights is the same in Derry and Glasgow, and it’s also good for workers in London, Dublin, Berlin. These benefits are the real success stories that which make a real difference to millions of lives of our fellow citizens. And yet when asked what he would do with the social chapter lead Brexiteer Boris Johnson said simply that he would “scrap it”.

While the Outers have sought to make the debate on the EU more about immigration than the real benefits of the EU, the SNP in Scotland have sought to dispel this myth and promote the positive case to remain. We know that the real population problem which has faced our peoples has not been immigration but emigration.

While it is easy for Brexiters to hijack the airwaves to look at free movement only on those who chose to come and live here in the UK, our people have the right now to work and study across the continent. The EU has created opportunities for 2 million UK citizens who have chosen to live in other EU countries. The 170,000 EU nationals who live in Scotland are welcome, as we are welcomed in France, Germany and the Netherlands.

We in Scotland, in common with Ireland are ourselves a migrant people populating many countries across the globe. Our own economy has benefitted vastly from migrant workers. We must be able to continue to attract talented individuals to support the growth in Scotland as you should here in Northern Ireland.

As business men and women, political leaders, here in Northern Ireland you are uniquely placed to use your own experience inspired by the determination of the EU’s founders - not just to avoid war, but to work together to build something better.

If the Peace Process here has taught us anything, it is the intrinsic value and indeed the power of, collaboration and co-operation. l want us to remain in the EU so that we can continue to work together, progressing the interests of our people, embracing solidarity and its social responsibilities, in a Europe that supports its citizens, businesses and governments.

I’ll end with the concluding remarks from that historic speech by, John Hume, who saw well into the future. Indeed, John was always looking forward and always looking outward;

“I want to see Ireland - North and South - the wounds of violence healed, play its rightful role in a Europe that will, for all Irish people, be a shared bond of patriotism and new endeavor.”