Leaving the European Union could jeopardise the “political progress” made in Northern Ireland over the past 20 years, the leader of Labour’s pro-EU campaign has warned.
Alan Johnson made the comments as he launched Labour In for Northern Ireland yesterday, where he accused the Government’s Northern Ireland Secretary, the Eurosceptic Theresa Villiers, putting “progress at risk” by backing an Out vote.
Johnson argued that the EU “has been a steadfast source of political and financial support for the peace process”.
Shadow Northern Ireland Secretary Vernon Coaker also highlighted what a boost the UK’s EU membership has been to the Northern Irish economy, arguing that one in every eight jobs there are “linked to over £3.6 billion-worth of trade with the EU”.
“It is no wonder that 81per cent of business people in Northern Ireland want us to remain in the EU,” Coaker said.
Former Home Secretary Johnson stressed that Labour has always given by-partisan support to the Northern Irish Government on issues such as security to ensure long-lasting peace in the country.
“We continue to support the Northern Ireland Executive, the economy, civil society in embedding and deepening that peace process and ensuring the development of Northern Ireland’s prosperity and economy,” he said.
“In doing so, I believe that all sides have a responsibility to recognise the importance of this vote on June 23rd.
“Be in no doubt, Northern Ireland’s EU membership has facilitated political and economic progress in Northern Ireland. In direct terms, the EU has been a steadfast source of political and financial support for the peace process in Northern Ireland. Northern Ireland’s ability to access to the single market, coupled with the success of the Good Friday Agreement, has brought about economic development as well as enhanced economic cooperation between North and South in Ireland.”
He also attacked Tory Cabinet minister Theresa Villiers for “undermining” progress by backing a vote to leave the EU:
“A withdrawal from the European Union could risk reversing that trend and undermining the economic and political progress made. By siding with the ‘leave’ faction within the Conservative Party, the Northern Ireland Secretary Theresa Villiers is putting that progress at risk.”