As well as asking how different sectors would be affected by a possible exit from the European Union by the UK, we also asked for views from across the regions of Wales, Scotland and Northern Ireland.
Derek Walker, chief executive at the Wales Co-operative Centre
Businesses, communities and individuals across Wales have benefited significantly from European Union funding.
Social enterprises and co-operatives have been helped to grow and create new jobs as a result of business advice, grants and loans funded by the EU.
Many people in Wales have had the opportunity to gain important life skills, for example to be able to use digital technology, as a result of initiatives that receive funding from the EU.
The Wales Co-operative Centre has delivered some of these services. If Britain were to leave the EU this good work might not continue, many people and businesses in Wales would be affected.”
Andrew MacKinlay, president of the Northern Ireland Cooperative Party and former Labour MP (Thurrock 1992-2010)
“I am implacably opposed to a UK Brexit,” said Andrew MacKinlay, president of the Northern Ireland Cooperative Party.
In a speech to his party’s executive committee, Mr MacKinlay said that while the EU’s work towards peace and reconciliation had been of great benefit to its members, his concern now was the effect leaving the EU would have on the relationship between Northern Ireland and ‘the South’.
“My immediate fear is that too many people are blind to the potentially catastrophic consequences for the UK / Republic of Ireland bilateral relations,” he said. “A UK Brexit will also have an enormous negative impact on mobility, trade and employment.”
Mr MacKinlay’s fear centres around Northern Ireland’s 310mile land border with the republic. He believes it is all too easy to forget what things used to be like, with closed border roads cutting people off from accessing property or seeing loved ones without a major detour.
“People do not seem to realise that one of the inevitable consequences of a Brexit, will be a return to that kind of border regime,” he says. “Yet again, London shall be accused of ‘dividing Ireland’.”
The cause of a new UK high-tech, restrictive border, he says, will be the free movement of EU citizens within the European Union.
“Without a closed border and tight controls between the United Kingdom / Irish Republic, the border shall be highly porous,” said Mr MacKinlay. “It is only with the tightest restrictive border controls that the government would be able to police or frustrate European Union citizens freely entering the UK via the land border, having legitimately entered the island of Ireland via the Republic.”
And he warned a restrictive border would harm the retail/ shopping sector, reducing the incentive of people to cross from the Irish Republic to shop within Northern Ireland.
“This will particularly hit the retail sector in Enniskillen and Derry,” he said. “A hassle-free fun-day [would be] lost following the imposition of UK border controls, post Brexit. “The consequence will be significant reductions in the shopping and retail industry, and a loss of jobs.”
James Graham, chief executive of the Scottish Agricultural Organisation Society (SAOS)
The reason why Scotland’s farmers and agricultural co-ops want the UK to continue as a member of the EU can be summed up in three words: Common Agricultural Policy. It’s rare to speak to anyone in the industry here who advocates leaving.
Some figures illustrate the point. The total income from farming (output minus costs) declined by 20% from 2013 to 2015, to £665m, of which £450m was subsidies (Scottish Government initial estimates for 2015).
In its commentary the Scottish Government states: “The data shows that the profitability of the agricultural sector is heavily, though not entirely, dependent upon subsidies.”
This masks the fact that the position of individual farmers across the country varies widely according to geography, climate and farming type. Most of rural Scotland is upland or mountain, wet and windy, and the majority of farmers are struggling to survive in the face of 20-30% reductions in farm output values over the last two years.
Although subsidies are declining in real terms and the CAP is very far from perfect, the concern with a possible Brexit is that the UK government has not given any indication of what would replace the CAP, and its track record is one of little interest in the farming industry, unlike the Scottish Government and other European member states, which regard the CAP at least in part as a social policy that enables rural areas to maintain communities, economic activity and infrastructure.
If our farm production base declines, then so will Scotland’s rural communities, its agricultural co-ops and Scotland’s thriving food and drink industry, which in 2012 accounted for 24% of Scotland’s manufacturing employment and 32% of Scotland’s GVA from manufacturing. The last thing Scotland’s agricultural and food industry needs is more uncertainty, the threat of further declining incomes, and a risk of more complexities in securing overseas markets and employees.
- You can find all of our Brexit and co-ops coverage here.