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The Economic Implications of Brexit in Northern Ireland

Vice-Chancellor’s Welcome

The Economic Implications of Brexit in Northern Ireland

Tuesday, 26 April, Whitla Hall


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Good evening, ladies and gentlemen.

You are all very welcome to the Whitla Hall this evening for what is set to be the largest public debate in Northern Ireland around the possible economic impact of Brexit. There has certainly been no shortage of colourful moments around this important issue, and no lack of vivid imagery to go with it.

We’ve heard business leaders refer to leaving as being tantamount to playing Russian roulette without knowing how many bullets are in the chamber, and Boris Johnson likening staying as to being like staying in jail even though the jailer has left the door open by mistake.

Such vivid imagery depicts the passionately held views around this topic and it’s hard to remember a debate which has captured the attention of so many different sections and sectors of society.

But tonight we are here to discuss and learn more about the possible economic impact of Brexit on Northern Ireland.

It’s a debate that promises to be a lively one, so I won’t keep you from it for too long.

But events like this do not happen without a lot of planning and so I would like to thank Prof John Turner and his colleagues in Queen’s University Management School, including Dr Anthony McDonnell, Director of our Centre for Irish Business and Economic Performance, and to Dolores Vischer and her colleagues in Research and Enterprise for their work in pulling this together.

This event has been created to give all of you some additional, impartial and evidence-based insight before casting your vote. As a result you will have the opportunity to hear from some of the most eminent economists on this island today:
Dr Esmond Birnie, Chief Economist with PwC;
Angela McGowan, Chief Economist with Danske Bank;
Dr Paul MacFlynn, Economist, the Neven Economic Research Inst

and of course, our key speaker, Dr Edgar Morgenroth, Associate Research Professor with the Economic and Social Research Institute.

This event is another tangible example of Queen’s contribution to informing public debate here in Northern Ireland. It’s something that goes to heart of what we do, and it’s something that our staff in our Faculty of Arts, Humanities and Social Sciences particularly excel at.

Research agenda

But to be impactful, this type of debate must be informed…and we become informed through research and advancing our knowledge.

Research is how our students and our graduates gain the knowledge that is helping to transform the Northern Ireland economy.

Research is why at least 60 more cancer patients each year are walking around in Northern Ireland, when previously they would have died as a result of the disease, and research is why it has just been revealed that Queen’s is the UK leader for intellectual property commercialisation, ahead of Cambridge, Oxford, and the Institute of Cancer Research - yet more good news for job creation here in Northern Ireland.

Better in Europe

So that’s why tonight I hope you will forgive me as I take the chance to state quite clearly, that from this University’s point of view, we have no doubt that we are stronger in Europe.

Because without access to the opportunities EU membership gives us, Queen’s would be a very different and much poorer place, both economically and socially.

To date, in this year alone, Queen’s has been awarded £16.2 million of awards from EU funding. That is an incredible amount of resource to put at risk. And as I say, that is just in the year to date. We have some time left to go in the current year.

All across this University, our researchers are working on EU partner projects which will have positive and life-changing impacts for all of us, and it is work which would not be possible without membership of the EU.

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And it is not just funding. Staying in Europe allows us to attract the best researchers and to share information. We can today easily build a community of scientific talent which can flow between countries without visas or points systems. Which can assemble cutting-edge labs, industry and enable our small businesses to tackle challenges local and global.

Should we leave Europe, all of that would be at risk as the best researchers are unlikely to want to come here so willingly, knowing that they do not have free movement, and that when they come they would only have access to limited sources of funding.

Should we choose to become an external player in Europe, our EU science participation terms will all come down to negotiations. And we will no longer have a seat at the table when it comes to negotiating science policy.

The EU countries still in charge of the world’s largest scientific engine would have to put their interests first in negotiations with us. That’s not scare-mongering about EU membership – that’s dealing with reality.

NI economy

And let’s take another key factor for all of us here. With our new corporation tax regime on the horizon, many of us in this hall tonight are hopeful of attracting new industry and new employers to Northern Ireland, with all of the benefits that can bring.

But they won’t come unless they have a supply of highly skilled graduates who have been educated at a world-class university, where they have been taught by academics working at the very forefront of their field.

And I don’t need research to know that – because that’s what I get told each and every time I represent this University around the world, and that’s what the companies who come here are proud to say when announcing the latest round of much needed new jobs.

At Queen’s we are currently a Top Ten UK University for research impact. That’s why we get awarded European Research Council grants which are only awarded to expert investigators with a proven record of excellence. They are grants which allow our staff and our industry partners to work with the best of their peers around the world.

And that also applies to our PhD students, who are the next generation of Queen’s creators, thinkers and innovators. The people we need to drive forward Northern Ireland. They can currently access fantastically innovative training networks – enabling them to travel to partner institutions and allow others to travel here to impart their knowledge to us. Leaving the EU would put that at jeopardy.

Likewise for our young people. Our current membership of the Erasmus scheme allows our students to study at partner organisations throughout Europe. We currently have some 600 Erasmus students either studying with us or Queen’s students studying at partner institutions. All of them gaining what they need to get ahead in the graduate employment market.

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Do we really want to put that kind of life-changing and skill enhancing experience at risk?

And here on campus, in addition to our Erasmus students, there are currently 959 students from the EU studying for a degree from Queen’s, each of them supporting local businesses and contributing to society here in many ways. Providing the income to keep hundreds of jobs afloat, even in the square mile around this University.

Ladies and gentlemen, the bottom line is that the advances we have seen across the board -  from some of the biggest improvements in cancer research and food traceability - and from disability legislation to cybersecurity -  have all come about as a result of the collaboration between researchers at EU institutions and with EU industry partners.

Because of our EU membership, we now possess a powder keg of the kind of knowledge which which will produce mind-blowing advances and enable our scientists and students to make the next leaps of imagination, of innovation, and of societal, life-changing impact for us all.

But should we be forced to leave the EU, that powder keg of potential will become a damb squib, with our brightest and best minds forced to work with one hand effectively tied behind their backs.

And so, on that point that I will stop tonight.

Even though there are many more reasons why we believe our universities, which are at the very heart of our economy, are better in Europe.

Because I know that you did not come here to listen to me all night ….and I also know that at this moment my colleagues Dolores and Anthony are probably looking at me and wishing me into the ‘leave the stage’ camp, never mind the EU.

I wish you all a very illuminating, stimulating and enjoyable evening and once again, thank you all for coming to join in the discussion this evening here at Queen’s and to increase your knowledge around this debate. That’s what todays universities are here for….

Thank you