How would the Irish vote in an EU Brexit referendum?
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How would the Irish vote in an EU Brexit referendum?

After a week when Labour leader Jeremy Corbyn confirmed his party would campaign for Britain to stay in Europe, we ask some of the 600,000 Irish people here entitled to vote on the referendum if Britain should stay in or get out?

JIM Ryan stands at the door of the Coach and Horses' pub in London’s Covent Garden. Behind the counter, his son Sean stacks pints of Guinness. It’s 5pm and the bar is busy.

Chatter and laughter rise from a room of suited punters. From Tipperary, Ryan has surveyed this scene for 50 Covent Garden years. He built a business reputation on good Guinness but it didn’t come cheap.

For a long time he chose to import barrells directly from St James's Gate in Ireland rather than buy porter from the brewery Park Royal.

“It cost a bit more but people wanted the Dublin Guinness,” he says standing outside the door of his pub.

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“It used to be all Irish business around here then,” he sweeps his hand from the Strand, along Wellington Street and up towards High Holborn.

“All involved in the pub trade, food and hospitality. They still are.”

Like so many Irish business people then and now, favorable trade links between Britain and Ireland have made for better business between the countries.

Ireland is one of Britain’s largest trading partners and Britain remains Ireland’s largest export destination.

This macro-economic relationship distills down and in pubs like the Coach and Horses where this evening, Britain’s future in the European Union is a topic of conversation.

“My motto would be to leave well enough alone,” says Ryan. “But then a lot of English people here are probably fed up being told what to do by Angela Merkel and want to get out of it.

“I don’t know what would happen to Ireland if Britain went alone. It would be a very tricky situation if one stayed in and the other stayed out.

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“Whatever happens, the pub will still be here,” he jokes. “It’s been trading for over 100 years.”

Only this week Jeremy Corbyn was forced to appease critics who said his mandate on future European inclusion was unclear.

The new Labour leader has confirmed the party will campaign to remain within the EU ahead of the Brexit referendum dated for 2017, but predicted to happen sooner.

And with David Cameron’s position expected to be determined by what concessions he can negotiate, the referendum is deeper and more complicated than a simple yes or no.

Outside the pub however, the answer is straightforward for Peter Hughes who is stood smoking a cigarette.

The Dubliner is the energy behind the Porterhouse brand which is long established in London and Dublin.

“The beer we make and the spirits we make, we export to the UK and it’s worked out quite well,” he says. “I think the EU is a good thing. It’s not working perfectly but what does? I know I don’t. But it would be foolish to chuck it in.

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"A united Europe is great and the exposure to foreign influences - some are crazy but some are very desirable so to let it all go would be silly.

“Irish business people have made a big contribution here and a lot of customers here are prominent business people in this country.”

Stood stood further down the pavement outside the pub is Sligo native Bernie McDermott.

“Most Irish people here want to stay,” he says. “And we’ve benefitted so I’d be all for it. Our business is scaffolding. We’ve been in that business since ’95 and all is going well.

"I don’t work outside Britain but it [being a member of the EU] gives the company that freedom if we wanted it in the future. I’d think most Irish people would feel the same way. I don’t believe many of them would vote for Britain to leave.”

But there are plenty of people here who want to leave, you offer.

“Well, a lot of people feel immigration is costing the British taxpayer too much to stay in the EU and they’re not benefitting from it. But there’s lots of benefits - the freedom of travel is a big one.

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“We were here before the EU and survived through that lot and I’m sure we’d survive after if Britain did leave but I’d like to stay in. For my kids it would be beneficial."

MichaelKeveney-n Michael Keaveney

Across town in Soho, Michael Keaveney from Roscommon is a Director with the British Irish Chamber of Commerce.

The organisation was originally launched by Eamon Gilmore and William Hague and has over 200 members.

He says the conversation taking place in Jim Ryan’s pub is current at official levels between the countries.

“The first question you have to ask is what would happen to Irish people over here if Britain were to leave?” he says. “In the unlikely event that that were to happen, do we require special permits, special visas? Do we get the access to the NHS, access to schools?

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"However, I think Irish workers will feel the same as your average British worker - is my job secure?"

On the political shift brought about by the election of the new Labour leader, the director says.

“The election of the Jeremy Corbyn has added a new complicated dimension. Some matters where the Government are looking for reform around workers’ rights are ones which the Labour leader wants maintained. So we are faced with a situation where Labour could potentially advocate withdrawal if the government achieves its desired reforms.”

Keaveney admits that the issue has yet to capture the electorate but he expects that to change in the coming months.

“It’s not featuring hugely but if Britain were to leave the EU and Ireland were to stay where does that put the relationship? Where does it place Irish people in the UK? Irish workers coming to the UK? Irish companies who have set up bases in Britain for export into Europe?

“There are lots of questions out there that are being asked. One company told me that they are planning their three to four year strategy and what do we do with Britain? "We are a company coming from Cork, exporting to Britain. We don’t know. Will there be new tariffs that we have to factor in so there are concerns?

“As the campaign moves on into the actual crunch time, people will be looking at their own jobs and saying is it in my best interest that we stay or go.”

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He also says not every Irish person is in favour of maintaining the status quo.

“There probably is people working in some of the financial sectors who might find that the regulation from Brussels is too burdensome but they would be in a very small minority.

“From a business level we are engaged with the Irish government and have spoken to the British government. A lot will boil down to when we have an agreement to what concessions the UK Government gets and we’re likely to expect those in December.

“The most obvious area of concern [for Irish business] is the food sector. For Ireland, Britain is the number one export market for food, primarily, dairy products and beef.

"For the Chamber, our biggest concern if Britain were to leave would be the increased barriers to business and trade between the countries.

"It’s free movement of goods and services between the economies at the moment. If any barriers were to be put in place on that, it would certainly have a negative effect on business on both islands.

“We expect the vote to stay in to be carried, but as we’ve seen before, accidents can happen.”

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