PRIME Minister David Cameron has warned that leaving the European Union “puts the open Border between the Republic of Ireland and Northern Ireland at risk.”

In an exclusive interview with The Impartial Reporter, Mr. Cameron has:

* Suggested that First Minister Arlene Foster is “fundamentally wrong” that the UK could negotiate its own trade agreements if it decides to leave the European Union next week.

* Claimed leaving the EU “would be a risk for both the Republic and Northern Ireland.”

* Rejected the suggestion that he has been “scaremongering” during his pro-EU campaign.

“I don’t think giving people the facts can be described as scaremongering,” said Mr. Cameron.

Mrs. Foster, a Fermanagh-south Tyrone MLA, said last week that Britain “can stand on our own feet” and suggested that it could have “free trade agreements with a lot of other countries” in the event of Britain leaving the EU. But Mr. Cameron rejected this.

“Arlene Foster is fundamentally wrong in her assertion about free trade agreements,” he responded.

“The UK has free trade with the rest of the EU, including the Republic of Ireland, because we are in a single market. That means no tariffs, no barriers; meaning more jobs, prosperity and opportunities. It’s improved living standards for people in the UK and Ireland immeasurably.

“Beyond the EU, we have free trade agreements with 53 countries and territories. It’s all very well saying we could sign lots of deals ourselves. But that’s not the way these deals work in this day and age. The best free trade deals are done between large blocs.

“Barack Obama said it himself; so did the Prime Minister of Japan, Shinzo Abe. The question in this referendum is where do we have the best chance of succeeding. And in terms of trading with the world, and getting the terms that suit us, our bargaining power is undoubtedly better with the weight of 27 other countries and a market of 500 million people behind us.”

In the event of Britain deciding to leave the EU, Mr. Cameron has warned that there may be “implications” in Border areas, such as Fermanagh and Cavan.

“Now we don’t know for certain what a new travel regime might be. Those who want to leave the EU have not spelt out in any detail at all what our relationship with the countries remaining in the EU would look like. If we voted to leave the EU, for the first time the UK would be outside but sharing a land border with an EU country. For the first time since it joined, the Republic would share a border with a non-EU country.

“People might say 'well, the Common Travel Area has been in existence since the 1920s, that would just continue regardless'. But a lot has changed since then. Indeed, many in the Irish Parliament, the Irish Government and indeed two of my predecessors as prime minister have all suggested the agreement might become redundant if the UK leaves the EU.”

“It is right that people think very carefully about the implications of this. There are the practical implications; people living on the border use one another’s hospitals and airports, and travel for business, or just to see friends and relatives down the road. An open Border between the Republic of Ireland and Northern Ireland is in fact really important to daily life in Border counties.

"Then there are the symbolic implications, of passport checks being conducted between the two nations on the island of Ireland or the similarly unpalatable prospect of checks on people from Northern Ireland travelling within the UK. Life could look very different for people in the Border counties and beyond,” he said.

In terms of cross-Border trade, Mr. Cameron claimed that exports “would be subject to so-called rules of origin that would require customs procedures of some sort at the North-South land Border.”

“That would mean added time, costs and complications for companies. That would affect business. It would hit jobs. It would slow growth.”

And he could give no guarantee to farmers when asked about the single farm payment.

“Once again, we don’t know. It’s a leap in the dark. What we do know is that, with a seat at the table, we can negotiate the best CAP possible. And, as long as I’m prime minister, I will make sure that farmers are supported. But there’s no way we can make those guarantees for future governments.

“There’s also the fact that, within the EU, we have a seat at the table to decide the rules on exporting across Europe. If we left, we’d lose our say – but still have to follow the rules on everything we sold to the EU, which, at the moment is 60 per cent of farming exports.

"If we ended up with a deal like Canada has with the EU – which some Leave campaigners have advocated – that would mean quotas and tariffs of up to 70 per cent on our beef. There are also what are called non-tariff barriers to consider. In the Single Market, we can break down these barriers so they don’t hinder our farmers. Outside, we can’t.

"That’s why, as one example, America buys absolutely no beef from Britain, because it imposed a ban that we cannot challenge. In the EU we are able to overturn such bans, as we did in 2001 when France banned British beef. So yes, there is a risk to the CAP payments, and there are further risks to farmers, their staff and the wider economy of Northern Ireland,” he said.

Asked if leaving the EU would damage the Northern Ireland peace process, Mr. Cameron said: “As John Major said recently, what we have in Northern Ireland is a complex and multi-layered constitutional settlement that required many painstaking years of negotiation and sets the political framework for Northern Ireland, and between the UK and Republic of Ireland. We should think very carefully before doing anything that puts any of the framework at risk,” he said.

The prime minister believes a Brexit “would be a risk for both the Republic and Northern Ireland.”

“It would take us backwards, when we should be looking forwards. Compare things today to what they were like just a few decades ago. Today, there are thousands of people crossing the Border to get to work every day; tourists travelling around safely; trade flowing easily. If you do anything to harden that Border, it’s clear you harm the people on both sides of it,” he said.