Will Straw, the executive director of Britain Stronger In Europe, stated recently that 1 in 8 jobs in Northern Ireland is supported by EU membership. A report from the Centre for Economics and Business Research does, in fact, present data that supports this claim. The latest statistics from 2011 show that 110,480 jobs rely on EU exports, most significantly in the manufacturing sector. The agricultural and tourism industries also benefit substantially.
There is no evidence that these jobs are dependent on EU membership
As the report openly states, leaving the EU does not necessarily mean any of these jobs would be lost. The research follows a fairly simple methodology for the development of these estimates. It takes the proportion of each sector’s total monetary output that is a result of exports to the EU, and applies this ratio to the number of people employed in that sector. Consequently, as long as those exports remain intact, so should the jobs. The Institute of Economic Affairs released ‘The EU Jobs Myth’ in March 2015, which goes into great depth outlining some of the possible scenarios if the United Kingdom (UK) did choose to give up its EU membership. It predicts that these ‘1 in 8’ jobs in question should avoid any dramatic decline.
The bigger picture
While all of these jobs are not dependent on EU membership, their growth is contingent upon a healthy economy and reliable trade links. The number of EU-related jobs is rising significantly faster than the overall increase in employment. Northern Ireland, after London, has the fastest growing number of EU-related jobs as a proportion of the labour market. The business and services sector in the UK is most significantly affected, as it has seen EU-related jobs almost double between 1997 and 2011. As outlined in this report, the UK has been steadily increasing its overall trade since it joined the EU in 1973, as have most industrialised countries. However, intra-European trade has been growing substantially faster than exports to the rest of the world. While a dramatic loss of jobs in the case of Britain exiting Europe is unlikely, the real question is if the same level of growth could be sustained. Any answer to this is largely speculative, as it is difficult to accurately predict the trade deals the UK would secure in that scenario.