EU referendum: What will leave vote mean for Northern Ireland?

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The UK voted to leave the European Union by 52% to 48%

What will the implications be across life in Northern Ireland after the UK voted to leave the EU?


What does this mean for the Irish border?

For now nothing changes - the UK is still in the EU so people and goods can continue to move freely across the frontier. But when the UK leaves there could be changes.

The current free movement of people is allowed by an arrangement known as the Common Travel Area (CTA). It pre-dates the creation of the EU. Both the UK and Irish governments will push to see it continue. But we can't be certain that it will - some legal experts suggest it could only continue with the agreement of other EU countries.

In a contingency plan published on Friday the Irish government said "preserving the benefits of the CTA will be a key priority in the context of UK-EU negotiations". The nature of any trade deal with the EU will decide whether customs checks return to the border.

The Irish contingency plan says it will explore options to "minimise the impact of checks on trade flows" which will involve discussions with HM Revenue and Customs and the UK government.

What does it mean for business investment?

The Northern Ireland economy relies heavily on foreign direct investment for providing well paying, high productivity jobs. One of Northern Ireland's attractions to foreign-owned companies is that it provides access to the single market. That access will probably be reduced when the UK leaves the EU.

The Ulster Bank economist Richard Ramsey says the the referendum result "raises questions about the ability to attract foreign direct investment (FDI) in the future". He adds that until there is clarity around what our new trading arrangements will be, NI could be seen as a no-go zone for some FDI.

Invest NI, the agency tasked with attracting foreign investment, has sought to play that down. Its chief executive, Alastair Hamilton, said "we are confident that Northern Ireland will continue to succeed as an attractive location for inward investment, in particular from our largest target market, the USA; and that the reduction in corporation tax will play an invaluable role in creating a business-friendly environment to support job creation".

Currency movements

Perhaps the most dramatic market move on Friday was the steep fall in the value of the pound against other currencies. That should bring short-term benefits to exporters. A significant proportion of Northern Ireland's exports, such as food are price sensitive. A weaker pound makes those goods cheaper to buy abroad and so they should gain market share.

Similarly, it should be good for tourism as it makes Northern Ireland a cheaper destination for people travelling from the eurozone or US. But currency movements are a double-edged sword. A weaker pound will make imports more expensive. Fuel prices could be first to go up as oil is traded in dollars. The Petrol Retailers Association, said that a rise of 2p-3p a litre was on the cards as early as next week.

Agriculture and Environment

What happens to farm subsidies?

With complex negotiations over an exit, the existing subsidy scheme is likely to be guaranteed until 2019. After that the Leave camp has promised a British agriculture policy or BAP to replace the existing Common Agriculture Policy known as CAP.

But will it add up to the £260m paid out to farmers here by the EU last year? With farm incomes down across all sectors, producers have come to rely on the cheques from Europe. Those backing exit have said subsidy levels will be maintained and the payments tailored to local needs. Opponents say there's no guarantee and successive British governments have tried to reduce direct payments during CAP reform.

Questions have also been asked about where farming will come in the pecking order for the redistribution of money previously paid to the EU budget.

What happens to the cross-border agri-food trade?

Northern Ireland has a healthy trading relationship with the Republic of Ireland. In 2014, £560m of dairy, beef, sheep, pig and poultry was sold to the market across the border.

For now, that all moves seamlessly across the border. Questions now revolve around what the new trading arrangements will be. Whether there will be tariffs and custom controls that might add cost and reduce competitiveness.

The Leave camp says it will not be a problem, that technology will grease the wheels of cross-border trade. The Irish Republic and other EU export markets are important to Northern Ireland agri-food businesses. But most of what is produced in NI is sold within the UK.

What does this mean for the environment?

A raft of rules around things like habitats, waste, water and air quality are driven by EU regulations and directives.

Much of this has been done by legislating for them in domestic law. If those laws are not repealed it is assumed they will continue to apply. In some cases they are more stringent than the European ones.

What will change is the need to prove to the EU that targets under those rules are being kept or risk penalties.


Image source, Thinkstock

What happens to healthcare in Northern Ireland & the rest of the UK?

The way people access healthcare in Northern Ireland on a day-to-day basis is unlikely to be affected by the vote to leave the EU. The same goes for when using services in England, Scotland or Wales. The NI Executive has made clear it is committed to providing a health service that's free at the point of use. Most other EU countries do not have national health services, with most relying on medical insurance style systems for their healthcare.

What happens to healthcare when travelling in Europe?

For many people from Northern Ireland heading off on European holidays, packing a European Health Insurance Card - or EHIC - is a must.

This card, which is free, currently means travellers can avail of state-provided medical help for any condition or injury that requires urgent treatment, in any other country within the EU. The EHIC covers Norway, Switzerland, Iceland and Liechtenstein as well, even though they are not EU members.

Will the EIHC still be valid in the future? At the moment it is far from clear and much will depend on the deal the UK can negotiate with the EU.

What about staff?

It's hard to get accurate figures on the numbers of EU medical staff working in each trust area here - the last census, which dates from 2011, recorded 83,000 people from elsewhere in the EU living in Northern Ireland. Of that group 37,000 were from the Republic of Ireland.

There is no doubt that during the referendum there were concerns from those on the Remain side that Brexit would make it harder to recruit and hold on to foreign staff. However, those who backed the Leave vote argued if the UK was outside the EU it could still admit foreign health staff under a visa system which recognised essential skills.


Image source, PA

What impact will the referendum result have on local universities?

In the aftermath of the vote there is uncertainty, but any impacts are unlikely to be immediate.

The main concerns will centre on funding from the EU for research, and the ability to attract EU and international students to study in Northern Ireland. Most leaders of UK universities were firmly in the Remain camp prior to the referendum. The Queen's University (QUB) vice-chancellor Patrick Johnston was one of 103 university vice-chancellors who signed an open letter prior to the vote warning of the impact of an exit.

He had also previously said that "Queen's would be a very different and much poorer place, both economically and socially" without access to the opportunities EU membership provided. Sources at Ulster University (UU) have echoed many of his concerns.

Why are there concerns about EU research funding?

Both local universities benefit from research and knowledge exchanges with partner universities in the EU. They have also received millions in grants from the EU for research. QUB has received around £16m from the EU in research funding in 2016 so far, while UU has also received a number of large EU research grants this year, including a recent 1m Euro grant for psychologists at the university. Sources at both universities have expressed concerns that it will be harder to access that funding outside the EU. It is important to note, however, that the provision of a £150m loan to UU from the European Investment Bank to part-fund its new Belfast campus is unaffected by the leave vote.

Will it become harder for universities here to attract students from abroad?

This is unclear, but both QUB and UU want to more than double the number of international students they attract. In 2013/14 there were 5,950 students from outside the UK in higher education here - around 10% of the student body. Just under half came from EU countries, while the rest came from countries outside the EU, mainly in Asia. Those non-EU students pay considerably higher tuition fees than local or EU students. Sources at both universities have expressed concerns that it might now become harder to attract students from other EU countries and from farther afield to Northern Ireland.

What about Northern Irish students who want to study at universities in the Republic of Ireland. Will they have to pay higher fees?

Currently, students from Northern Ireland pay a tuition fee of 3,000 euros a year to study in the Republic of Ireland. However, non-EU students pay substantially more - with fees beginning at 10,000 euros a year. Would Northern Irish students be classed as non-EU in future?

In a statement to the BBC, the former dean of undergraduate studies at Trinity College Dublin (TCD), Professor Patrick Geoghegan, said that TCD would do whatever was necessary to ensure that Northern Irish students were not treated as international students in the years ahead.


Image source, Pacemaker

What will happen at the Irish border?

Some in the Remain camp argued that a vote to exit the European Union would see a return of permanent border checkpoints. Those in the Leave camp, including Secretary of State Theresa Villiers, insisted that was nonsense.

There have been such agreements, which pre-dated the European Union (EU), that allowed easier cross-border movement. However, it is unclear how those arrangements will be affected by the UK's withdrawal from the EU.

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