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Brexit could cost us Scotland and Northern Ireland: Tony Blair

·Nicole Goodkind

On June 23, Britain will vote on whether to exit or remain part of the European Union (EU). The country remains divided almost evenly. While phone polls find that more Brits are in favor of staying, online polls show more want to leave, according to The Guardian.

Britain joined the EU in 1973 but has maintained a somewhat estranged relationship with the union. Great Britain opted out of the single Euro currency and does not comply with the Schengen Agreement, which allows EU citizens passport-free travel around the continent. If Britain exits (or “Brexit”), they will no longer have to pay nearly $12 billion a year to the EU (the EU has a common budget and the UK is a net contributor). Another selling point for some is being able to further limit the number of migrants entering the country each year-- about 3 million EU nationals live in Britain while only 1.3 million Britons live elsewhere in the union.

But former Prime Minister Tony Blair (1997-2007) believes the negatives of a potential Brexit outweigh the positives. “We’re part of the single market in Europe, which is the largest commercial market in the world,” he tells Yahoo Finance. “Half of our goods get sold into that market. If we leave, we will then spend the next years in the uncertain position of having to renegotiate our way back into the single market.”

The single market is a tariff-free trade agreement among the 28 member states of the EU. Some say that without EU trade regulations Britain will be able to negotiate better trade deals with the other 27 member countries. Others believe that the negotiation process will be arduous and that some countries will want to punish the UK in order to discourage other members from leaving.

“The things people don’t like about the single market, like the free movement of people and immigration, these are the very things we’d have to negotiate back in order to have the advantage of the market which we need for our businesses,” Blair says.

Blair sees a benefit to being a part of the “biggest political alliance in the world.” To stay out of that alliance, which just so happens to be at the UK’s doorstep, would be “destructive and foolish,” he says.

Scottish Independence

In September 2014, Scotland issued a referendum on independence. While the country ultimately voted to remain a part of the United Kingdom, the Scottish National Party received a great boost of support. Blair fears that if Britain were to leave the EU, it would lose Scotland for good.

“The case for Scottish independence today is, in my view, a pretty weak case,” he says. “If Scotland had left the UK, the change in the oil prices would have made all of the projections of a Scottish economy way out of whack so you would have ended up with a serious economic problem in Scotland.” But if Britain votes to leave Europe those problems start to change, says Blair. Scotland would have a case to say it wants to be a part of the single market and the EU political alliance.

“The argument also changes in respect to Northern Ireland,” he says. Northern Ireland has the ability to vote on an independence referendum, though there is no current plan to do so.  “So this is a situation where you’re going to end up with years of political and economic uncertainty and then waves of additional insecurity because of the wave on the rest of the UK voting to leave.”