Thursday 8 December 2016

'Make no mistake - a Brexit is not in Ireland's best interests'

With €1bn a week in trade between our two countries, we need the UK to stay in the EU, says Minister Simon Harris

Simon Harris

Published 09/08/2015 | 02:30

Simon Harris: 'There is no doubt that it is in our interest, the EU's interest, and in my view, Britain's economic interest to remain in the EU'
Simon Harris: 'There is no doubt that it is in our interest, the EU's interest, and in my view, Britain's economic interest to remain in the EU'

The Irish Government has made clear our position in relation to Britain and the EU: we want to see Britain remaining in the EU and we want to work constructively to assist in achieving that objective.

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Around €1bn a week in trade occurs between our two countries. Britain is a major export market for Irish goods and services. And the reverse is true also - Ireland is Britain's fifth-largest market for goods export.

Of course, the Irish and British relationship goes far beyond just headline figures. Our people - in both countries - have often worked together. There are around 50,000 Irish people who serve as directors of British companies.

There is no doubt that it is in our interest, the EU's interest, and in my view, Britain's economic interest to remain in the EU. That debate will no doubt intensify over the coming months and ultimately the British people will be asked to make a decision on their future relationship with the EU within the next year or two years.

But I want to look at one specific assertion being touted: the idea that if Britain leaves the EU, it would boost Ireland's international financial services (IFS) offering and hence be good for the Irish economy.

That viewpoint is much too simplistic and ignores a number of important realities:

• Any short-term potential benefit to IFS in this country would be dwarfed by the overall challenges arising from our biggest trading partner leaving the EU.

You cannot simply look at the impact of a major development like a British exit from the EU in a sector-specific manner.

You have to look at the economic reality in the whole. Ireland's IFS benefits from a thriving Irish economy and it is in the interest of that growing economy that Britain remains in the EU.

• Ireland and Britain certainly compete for investments. We do so actively - and I am proud of the Irish offering.

Competition is good and a reality in a global economy, but to reduce Ireland and Britain's relationship to merely one of competitors is also missing the point.

Yes, we have a competitive relationship - but it is also a symbiotic one. Around the meeting tables of the European Union, Ireland and Britain generally have a similar outlook in relation to financial services. We tend to pull in the same direction.

Therefore, a European Union meeting table without Britain is one in which we are missing an important economic partner who shares a similar viewpoint and understanding of international financial services.

• Similarly, whilst we will continue to compete with Britain and many other countries for certain investments in the area of financial services, let's not ignore another fact: the UK is a major global economy and it will continue to be so, regardless of any potential developments.

Many companies will always find it important to have a presence in the UK, but Ireland can and does benefit from its close geographic proximity to the UK.

Many companies base some of their operations in the UK and other parts of their operations in Ireland. So, Ireland and Britain in the EU can collectively become a real hub for IFS within Europe. Our two islands are already emerging as the area in the EU in which to do business and we can build on this further.

I have real belief that we can grow IFS as a sector in Ireland, and I have a plan in place - IFS2020 - to make this happen, to create more jobs and to ensure that Ireland can continue to attract investments in this sector and also build a strong, innovative eco-system of Irish companies working in this sector.

We have a great offering - we have the skilled workforce, we have the reputation for being innovative and for enabling companies to successfully carry out business here and we have a Government determined to make Ireland a great country in which to do business.

There is much more we need to do, and I am committed to driving this and by the end of 2019 to ensuring we have a further 10,000 people working in IFS in Ireland.

But let's not fool ourselves - Britain leaving the EU is not a short-cut to growing the sector here. Ireland and Britain together in the EU offers many more opportunities.

Simon Harris TD is the Minister of State at the Department of Finance and the Department of An Taoiseach with responsibility for international financial services. In March of this year, he published Ireland's new strategy for the sector - IFS2020 - which outlines a number of actions to grow employment in the sector over the next five years

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