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Noonan fears UK EU exit, Scots vote

Tuesday, February 11 17:40:09

A planned British referendum on leaving the European Union is worrying to Ireland because of our close trade ties and the possible impact it could have on the bloc.

British premier David Cameron wants to renegotiate Britain's EU ties and offer a referendum on membership if his Conservatives retain power after an election next year but the prospect is unsettling for Ireland.

The Government also has some concerns that a vote on Scottish independence, due in September, could destabilise Northern Ireland, Finance Minister Michael Noonan said today.

"Britain are our nearest neighbours and our closest international friends. They are also our nearest trading partners," Noonan said at the Reuters Euro Zone Summit, a series of interviews with the region's top policymakers. "Anything that would upset the trade relationship would be adverse to both countries."

British membership is also important to balance the bloc, given the potential dominance of Germany, the largest country and the largest economy in the EU, Noonan said.

"There is a kind of internal balance in Europe that requires the UK, in my view. Germany's economy is a third of Europe now, and if the UK were semi-detached, the sheer weight of the German economy would imbalance Europe."

Ireland also has some concerns about Scotland's vote in September over whether to leave the UK. Scottish independence could destabilise Northern Ireland, where the community that favours remaining British have close links to Scotland.

Though a 1998 peace deal largely ended decades of sectarian violence, the province still remains deeply split between Protestants who mainly want to remain part of Britain and Catholics tending to favour unification with Ireland.

"There is a kith and kin argument where they are very close to Scotland," Noonan said. "So it could be politically destabilising in Northern Ireland, and we need to think our way through that if Scotland were to vote for independence."

Ireland is also hesitant about changing EU treaties, Noonan said. That requires a referendum, which makes the process more complicated.

"If the issues are of consequence, we would be willing to go to the people, but we wouldn't want to go to the people on what we consider trivial issues," he said.