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Brexit Debate Seminar – Summary

Published 18 May 2016

The Merchant Hotel was the venue for the first of three Brexit debate seminars organised by ASM Accountants in conjunction with the Belfast Chamber of Trade and Commerce, and featuring guest speakers from various business and industry sectors.

BBC Radio Ulster’s Wendy Austin, chairing the seminar, opens up with an appropriate greeting of “Hello, Bonjour, Bonjourno, Guten Tag”. The panel of speakers introduce themselves and give a brief indication of which ‘side’ they are on regarding the Brexit; all are in agreement that the UK should remain part of the European Union.

This is reaffirmed by an audience vote – with the majority of attendees agreeing with the views of the panel, and less than 5 people saying they were undecided at present.

Bill Wolsey, owner of the Beannchor Group and the Merchant Hotel, states how he believes it would be “insanity” if the UK were to leave the EU, noting that the implications for Northern Ireland specifically would be “grave”.

Michael McAllister from ASM Accountants mentions the immigration issue, noting how this appears to be impacting the public vote in England, more so than economic issues.

Paul McMahon, Director of Castle Court and representing the BCT&C, explains that being part of the EU gives the freedom to allow people to move across Europe. This is reinforced by Bill Wolsey, who calls the immigration argument “bogus” and notes how the presence of other EU nationals in the country has brought many social and cultural benefits.

Angela McGowan, Chief Economist at Danske Bank, notes how the benefits of free trade throughout Europe cannot be underestimated especially for Northern Irish businesses.

Angela further describes how leaving the EU could impact many new and start-up businesses, who may have to spend years building up trade connections, when one is already established and in place. This view is also shared by Michael McAllister who notes how quickly and easily it is to trade in Europe, a benefit which many businesses take for granted.

The general consensus among the panel suggests that the EU has been good to Northern Ireland, from what was once a poor region going back 30/40 years, to a more prosperous and stable economy, with better living standards.

It is also agreed that the ‘leave’ argument from specific sources in London is not well articulated and is in fact skewing the public view. Bill Wolsey adds his final thoughts to the debate, that leaving the EU could trigger another Scottish Referendum and may cause the breakup of the UK – which everyone agrees is another debate for another time!

Well done to all involved in organising the seminar, and thank you to the guest panelists for their expert advice and insight. The next seminar takes place tomorrow at the Canal Court Hotel in Newry.

The referendum takes place on 23rd June.To vote, you must register online by 7th June, visit for more information.

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