The First and Deputy First Minister are completely opposed in their views on the United Kingdom’s membership of the European Union.

Speaking during a visit to Enniskillen last Thursday, First Minister Arlene Foster explained why she is backing a UK exit from the European Union, while Deputy First Minister Martin McGuinness outlined his reasons for the UK to remain in Europe.

On June 23, 2016 voters across the UK will vote on whether to leave or remain in the European Union. Prime Minister David Cameron is campaigning to remain in a reformed EU and has described the vote as one of the biggest decisions “in our lifetimes”.

He has negotiated a deal with Europe which will take effect immediately if the UK votes to remain in the EU. It includes changes to migrant welfare payments, safeguards for Britain’s financial services and making it easier to block unwanted EU regulations. Six of David Cameron’s 21 Cabinet Ministers and London Mayor Boris Johnson have opposed him by backing an exit.

First Minister Arlene Foster’s message to Fermanagh farmers who are concerned about the impact a British exit would have on their farm subsidies, is: “We do need to have a very thorough conversation about that for two reasons.

“Firstly, if you look at the Common Agriculture Policy budget, it has reduced considerably over the years. In fact it is only 37 per cent of the budget in Europe now so it’s going down in any event.

“Secondly, if you look at what we did as a party, the DUP said that there had to be a longer period over which the single farm payment would be spread out so that it wouldn’t go to a flat rate immediately. In 10 years time there’s no doubt that the flat rate will be there, therefore the subsidy will go down and it will be spread out across the new entrant countries that are coming into the European Union.

“The thing to say to farmers is: nothing stays the same and if we stay inside the European Union things are not going to stay the same. If we were to leave there would have to be a discussion about how farmers would be supported in the future.

“We all know that the UK is a net contributor to the European Union and there’s more money going in than we get back, so, how do we make use of that money for farmers and businesses right across the UK?

“The thought that if we vote to leave the European Union on the 23rd that it will happen on the 24th is a nonsense. It will be a negotiated exit. I do not foresee checkpoints on the border. Relationships between ourselves and the Republic of Ireland have improved inexorably over the past number of years.

“Just as there are issues around those countries in the European mainland who are not part of the European Union, we will have to sort those issues out as well."

Deputy First Minister Martin McGuinness said: “An exit would be very bad, not only for Fermanagh, but for every one of Ireland’s 32 counties.

“The implications of this are very, very serious indeed. We think that the arguments to remain in the EU are absolutely compelling, it’s a no brainer.

“We have benefitted enormously from Europe over the course of many decades [for example] the level of support we have received for the farming community through the CAP programme.

“Quite clearly the overwhelming majority of our business community have been discussing this since a referendum on British exit was first mooted and they are overwhelmingly against leaving Europe. I think our universities would also be opposed.

“Many people would regard an exit from Europe as a backward step from the Good Friday and St. Andrews Agreements with it being mooted that conceivably we could end up with the re-instillation of border check points.

“European support for the peace process and very vital programmes such as the Peace Fund, INTERREG, Horizon 2020 has been enormous and has been hugely beneficial for our people.

“It’s interesting that the Ulster Farmers Union has said it can’t see a case for leaving but they are leaving it up to their individual members. The fact that they can’t see an argument for leaving the EU clearly suggests that they think we should stay in.

“In my view there’s absolutely no case for anyone voting to remove ourselves from Europe. It would be hugely detrimental on a social, political and economic level.”